Experimental Archaeology Rocks

My name is Martin Lominy. I’m a trained archaeologist, a career educator, a self-taught craftsman and the founder of Aboriginal Technologies Autochtones, a Quebec based business with an educational mission aimed at providing the general public with a more practical vision of the past and a better understanding of aboriginal cultures of North America through the reproduction and experimentation of ancient technologies.

Today, I’m doing an inventory of lithic material so for this year’s Day of Archaeology post I’ve decided to focus on lithic technology which basically refers to the art of bashing, cracking, knapping, pecking, grinding or polishing stones of various kinds to manufacture tools, ornaments and other objects whose significance becomes even more obvious through the study of how they were used, broken, repaired, recycled and discarded.

Stone is of all materials the most dealt with in archaeology and stone tools are of paramount importance not only because they are very well preserved in the archaeological record and common to all cultures but also because they are the basic tools with which most other tools were made in prehistory. They not only help us understand the technical skills of ancient people but also inform us on chronological periods, cultural groups, food production, population movements, social organization and trade networks.

Stone tools are in fact a complex technology that benefits greatly from experimental archaeology which is a research method specialized in the reproduction of past objects and behaviours to understand the processes involved in making and using artefacts found in archaeological sites. For decades archaeologists have recognized the value of experimentation and reproduction for the benefit of research but also as an educational approach to share that knowledge with the public in a comprehensive and dynamic way.

I will briefly present here a photo essay of our latest projects aimed at improving our understanding of stone technology and reproducing various artefacts either for scientific objectives or educational purposes.


Collecting cobble stones for the reproduction of axes, net sinkers and grinding stones. It can take many hours of searching a shoreline or a river bed to find appropriate stones.

Collecting chert for knapping. Finding accessible chert can be a tricky operation these days since alot of the ancient stone quarries are now protected sites.

Preparing quartz preforms in the field to bring back to the workshop for tool making. As in ancient times, it’s a lot easier to carry preforms than boulders back to camp.

Testing a stone axe reproduction in the field during a house building project. Using a tool is the only way to learn the about the details of its construction.

Inserting a stone axe head in a live tree to test a hypothesis. According to historical sources, some stone axes were hafted by allowing a living tree to grow around a prepared stone blade.

Stone knapping

Knapping chert preforms for the reproduction of various tools. Similar piles of preforms are sometimes found in archaeological context and are known as caches.

Knapping experiments with quartz and dolomite. Unusual materials for that purpose that were nevertheless used in prehistory because of their availability.

Exercise in knapping very small tools from equally small flakes. In prehistory, people made the most of what they had available and chert was rarely wasted.

Typology of stone points of Northeastern America showing the evolution of projectile points. This display was designed as an educational tool for our public activities.

Polished stone

Reproductions of polished stone tools (celt, grooved axe, adze, gouge) that were used for woodwork in North America between 8,000 and 500 years B.P.

Reproductions of Northwest Coast style fish knives. Such knives made by grinding slate slabs were delicate but very sharp for the preparation of fish.

Drilling stone with stone. Various soft stones like soapstone, slate and limestone were polished and drilled in prehistory to make ornamental or ceremonial objects.

Common polished slate tools (semicircular knife, spear head) used in North America during the Archaic period (8,000-3,000 years B.P.).

Unworked stones as tools

Many stones found in archaeological context were modified by use but not by design. Sandstone for instance was commonly used as a grinding surface to work bone while chert flakes served as disposable blades.

Working a native copper nugget with a stone anvil, a hammer stone and a grinding stone to manufacture a prehistoric knife for a traceology project with the University of Montreal.

Making beaver incisor gouges with various grit stones for a traceology project with the University of Montreal.

Using various types of stones for cutting, hammering and polishing bone for the manufacture of prehistoric tattoo needles as part of a traceology project with the University of Montreal.

Sharing the knowledge

Reproductions of Dorset tools incorporating chert and slate blades commissioned by the Avataq Cultural Institute for education programs in Arctic communities.

Craft workshop on polished stone projectile points with students of the University of Montreal during Archaeology Week.

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A Day in the Life of an Investigator for the RCAHMW – Part III

After finishing my talk for the National Eisteddfod I went back to working on the Atlanterra Project. As part of the work I need to carry out for the project I have to prepare entries for Coflein.

Coflein is the online database for the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW), the national collection of information about the historic environment of Wales. The name is derived from the Welsh cof (memory) and lein (line). Coflein allows access to details of many thousands of archaeological sites, monuments, buildings and maritime sites in Wales, together with an index to the drawings, manuscripts and photographs held in the NMRW archive collections.

The survey work at Maenofferen Slate Mine (see earlier blog post) involved recording all the standing buildings and structures for ‘preservation by record’. Each of the standing buildings or structures is given a number – known as an NPRN – and each of the standing buildings or structures requires a site description entry.

Some of these entries can be quite simple, and describe the general history of the site, and any other documents which might have been consulted in writing the entry. Other entries can be much more complex and describe in significant detail the building or structure and any modifications or rebuilds it may have gone through during its life.

Maenofferen Slate Mine is a very complex site and is still in operation today. Given that the site began working in the 1860s, there are several phases which need understanding and writing up. The rest of the afternoon was spent checking through entries I’d already written, and making sure I’d got an entry for each of the buildings and structures which needed them – and also ensuring that I’d checked all the Ordnance Survey maps on our GIS (Geographical Information System) for anything which might not have been recorded on the maps, plans and photographs I’d already looked at. 

On the train journey home I was looking over a series of articles written on medieval licences to crenellate – which was a grant that gave permission for a building to be fortified. I was trying to see whether any of the castles I am looking at were given licences to crenellate, and I found one – so I’ll have to get the full reference for it so I can use it in my PhD.

The last bit of work I did this evening was to write this blog entry and a final check of my e-mails. Tomorrow is the weekend, but I’ll still be working on the papers I was reading through on the train this morning. And really, that’s why I’m an archaeologist. I’m fascinated by people and how they lived their lives, and I enjoy reading about them whether its the weekend or not.