Thursday, April 5, 2012

Manos and Metates in the Southwest

Adams, Jenny L.
1988 Use-wear Analyses on Manos and Hide Processing Stones. Journal of American Archaeology 15(3):307-315

     In this essay author Jenny L. Adams, Arizona State Museum, Tucson, Arizona, examines how use wear analyses can be utilized to clarify the functions of handstones (manos) in the prehistoric Southwest. Adams points out early on in her work some of the problems created from taxonomic systems, which are based only on visual characteristics such as shape and size, without due attention necessary to understand the different functions these common and seemingly simple tools. In support of her hypothesis Adams uses four handstones from the Walpi Archaeological Project identified by a tribal informant as hide-processing stones rather than standard food processing manos, which were compared with stones used during experimental analyses involving using the handstones to grind corn and other to process hides. The stones were then examined microscopically and visually inspect the different types of wear patterns and compared to the Walpi assemblage.
     The field of Tribology is identified by Adams as the study of friction, lubrication, and wear, and how this process influences the structure and function of dynamic mechanical systems. Four wear processes include abrasive, fatigue, adhesive, and tribochemical. According to Adams, the experimental data for both maize and hide processing shows distinctive fractions and wear patterns resulting from the different combinations of wear processes involved in each activity respectively. The conclusions drawn by Adams based upon the application of tribological analyses to handstones helps to answer questions that help to distinguish between the functions of handstones. Additionally Adams alludes to the potential for future research involving more wear analysis to ascertain the validity of her thesis. These discoveries have the potential to shed light on site functions, subsistence practices, and may contribute to development of more detailed chronological sequences for the Southwest region.

Schlanger, Sarah H.
1991 On Manos, Metates, and the History of Site Occupations. American Antiquity 56(3):460-474

     This essay by Sarah H. Schlanger explores the importance of provenience by analyzing the presence of manos and metates recovered during archaeological reconnaissance and data recovery. According to Schlanger, understanding the process of how materials moved through the continuum of human activities from the procurement of raw materials, the manufacture of desired products, and how the various functions contribute to their eventual deposition in situ can enable researchers to define more clearly things such as the duration of occupation and abandonment, as well as possible site function. Schlanger uses data to compare assemblages of manos and metates from several contexts including feature floors, fill areas, and those formed through a combination of depositional processes, all of which are typically considered more independently for other types of research. Schlanger also uses data from some experimental data involving wear analysis of one-hand manos, two-hand manos, and trough metates.
     Schlanger asserts that understanding the relationship between the length of time a tool was used for to the rates of disposal (deposition), along with tool functions all help to establish the types of activities at each location and how long the period of occupation were. The evidence she uses includes a case study from the Dolores Archaeological Program (DAP) which undertook excavation at 102 sites in southwestern Colorado. Schlanger goes on to point out that based upon the ground stone tools recovered during the DAP project, the percentage of one-hand manos and mutates remains stable during the Anasazi occupation, but there is a significant increase in two-hand manos after A.D. 850. Using multiple provenience contexts to track the positions of the ground stone tools through a range of human activities, Shclanger suggests the various site formation processes act on each type of tool as used materials are slowly discarded. Additionally the length of site occupation can be inferred based upon the rate of refuse deposition at each site according to Schlanger.



  1. One of the articles I found related to gender roles and the Southwest ties into the article summarized here by Sarah Schlanger. Schlanger talks about manos and metates being used within past human activities and that understanding how long such tools were used and then disposed of. The article that relates to this summary is by Barbara J. Roth. Roth says that human activities were found to be divided by types of labor, and then further divided by gender. Manos and metates, as well as other processing tools, were mostly used by women. Roth uses this sort of material evidence combined with ethnographic accounts for support. Furthermore, Roth says that women's activities were seen to include not only processing but gathering and manufacturing activities related to food production. Men's activites were seen to center around hunting. Depending on the size of the occupation, it seems as though men would help more with gathering and processing in societies with intensive agricultural production.

    1. Oops, forgot my source. :]

      Roth, Barbara J. 2006. The Role of Gender in the Adoption of Agriculture in the Southern Southwest. Journal of Anthropological Research 62(4): 513-538.

  2. What might have been able to replace stone metates or stone querns in the largely stone-free Southeast during the Mississippian period? I am especially interested in the southernmost Mississippian area, commonly called Plaquemine. Apparently no metates in any traditional shape whether functional or artistic seem evident in the archaeological record, Based on ethnographic analogy (the Hopis), it might be possible to use wooden metates, with a mano made of traded stone. Hard surfaces of wooden would permit enough self-abrasion of nixtamalized maize kernels against one another. Another hypothesis might be that softened kernels could be smashed.ground in small amounts directly between hardened wooden utensils. then the maize masa could be formed into cooking-sized cakes or tortillas.