Tuesday, April 24, 2012

NW Coast Milling Technology & Stone Assemblages

Conlee, Christina A.2000 Intensified Middle Period Ground Stone Production on San Miguel Island. Journal of California and Great Basin Archaeology 22(2):374-391

     This essay by Christina Conlee discusses the evidence of craft specialization in southern California among the Chumash people. At the time of Spanish contact, the Chumash resided across the Santa Barbara Channel from the modern day cities of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. According to Conlee, the first type of milling technology available in the area is roughly hewn milling slabs (metates) and manos. By the Early Period these implements are a prominent feature in assemblages found on the mainland, and are assumed to be connected to food processing and subsistence activities. However, as Conlee points out, food production alone does not explain the reason for intensified production during the Middle Period. The evidence cited by Conlee as evidence of Chumash craft specialization creating milling technology was the presence of a quarry and several productions sites all containing multiple milling technologies at varying degrees of completion throughout the island, this interpretation is further supported by evidence of trade between the Chumash residing on the island with peoples on the mainland.
     Conlee describes the development of ground stone tools or milling technology in the region as changing in form over time from rough slab metates and manos dating to 5,000 B.P., to more refined globular shaped mortars and pestles 4,000 B.P., then lastly a "flower pot" shaped mortar style dating to 1,500 B.P. In addition to changes in the style of manos and metates through time, there are also spatial distribution of sites containing manos and metates versus mortars and pestles, with the latter being more evenly throughout the site. Conlee suggests that the shifts in style and distribution of milling technologies may indicate a change in subsistence strategies, particularly the increased importance of acorns in Chumash diet. However because most of the food sources were located off the islands themselves, it is still unclear to archaeologists exactly what the milling technology was used for primarily and why it became a mainstay of Chumash technology during the Early and Middle Periods.

Keithahn, Edward L.
1962 Stone Artifacts of Southeastern Alaska. American Antiquity 28(1):66-77

     This essay by Edward L. Keithahn discusses the early stone tool assemblages found in southeastern Alaska, including interpretations of the possible uses of these tools. According to Keithahn there is not be adequate ethnographic accounts available to determine the precise usage of each item, one reason he cites as the cause of this is the adoption of copper tools and other items by the indigenous populations. The items included in the assemblage studied by Keithahn includes adzes, double-bitted adzes, chisels, stone axes, ice axes, mauls, hat-topped hammers, T-hammers, beaver tail hand hammers, spatulate hand hammers, pecking tools, saws, whetstones, mortars and pestles, lamps, pipes, fighting picks, slave killers, clubs, skull crackers, slate spear points, flaked-shaped projectile points, charms, labrets, combs, and flask-shaped artifacts.
     A few items important things to consider about this article are: Keithahn followed pretty standard format for research of his time, listing each item of the analyzed assemblage, offering a simple description of each, along with a list of potential uses. In his concluding statement Keithahn makes the fact that no input from contemporary Tlingit and Haida groups was considered in the interpretations, which by todays standards presents some problems. The reason Keithahn offers for this exclusion of is an apparent disconnect between modern and past indigenous populations. The result of this (I feel) is a lack of depth in the overall interpretation of stone assemblages in southeastern Alaska. However the diverse nature of the assemblage presents an intriguing picture of indigenous diversity in the northwest coast region.

1 comment:

  1. The Keithahn article raises an interesting point that fits with something I read while looking for my article for this region. Keithahn states that it was difficult to determine usage, because of the adoption of copper tools rather than lithics. This adoption could be due to the low quality, low abundance of stone resources (Andrefsky, 1994), and therefore a need for alternative material usage. People of this region were capable of determining the best use for each material they had, such as using the lower quality resources for less important tools. It is interesting to think about their discovery and utilization of different materials for tool-making, in facing poor local stone resources.

    Andrefsky, William Jr.
    1994 Raw-Material Availability and the Organization of Technology. American Antiquity 59(1):21-34.