Staring at Tiny Rocks Six Hours a Day

It’s amazing my eyes still function.

But anyways, I began this summer working on lithic analysis of the artifacts from SNAP 2015 field school.  The first step was to find and organize all of the bags of lithic artifacts by housepit and SPEC number.  Then I went through every bag and categorized all of the flakes by size, amount of cortex, raw material, presence or absence of thermal alteration, and type of flake (complete, partial, or unidentifiable).  This is where my eyes got quite the workout. Most of the flakes are smaller than 1 square cm!

The raw materials were usually easy to identify: black is basalt/fine-grained volcanic, sparkly is quartzite, and anything relatively opaque and colorful is chert.  Of course, that’s an oversimplification, but you get the gist.  I never realized how many different colors chert comes in, though!  Most of the artifacts from Housepit 8 were chert and many had been heat-treated or burnt, which can change the color of the chert and/or make it shiny.  The chert ranged from almost clear to very dark grey, bright red to pale green, yellow to speckled with white and grey, and more.

Searching for platforms on the flakes was the most difficult parts.  A platform is where the flake was hit to remove it from the core.  A picture-perfect platform is a flat edge with a curve below it, which is called the bulb of percussion. (See picture below to better illustrate.)  But of course, most platforms aren’t picture-perfect.  They are often so beat up from previous strikes with the hammerstone that the platform is a sharp edge, only differentiated from a regular side of the flake by a series of ridges from earlier hits.


Flake diagram

Nathan checked my categorizations for all the flakes as I went, and although it was difficult at first, I would say I improved significantly by the end.

After categorizing the artifacts, I entered the data into an Excel spreadsheet and began working on writing the report.  Housepit 8 won the award for most lithic artifacts ever recovered in a single housepit at Slocan Narrows with 1,000 artifacts!  Housepit 7 comes in at a close second (for the 2015 season only) with 85 lithic artifacts.  Housepit 4 has a grand total of 53.  In terms of interesting (or “sexy” as Alissa would call them) artifacts, Housepit 7 recovered the base of a dart point, and Housepit 8 had four small Kamloops projectile points and two bifacial tools (possibly knives).  A few other larger artifacts were picked up during surface collection, including some quartzite tool fragments.

While none of this was particularly hard or enthralling work, it is definitely exciting to see my name typed at the top of the chapter. I will be published soon!  It has also fanned my interest in finding out what people were doing at Slocan, what their lives were like.  Why does Housepit 8 have so many more artifacts than the others?  Why is Housepit 4 the only housepit of the three to have quartz artifacts?  Why do Housepits 4 and 7 have more quartzite than chert, but Housepit 8 has 961 chert artifacts and only 21 quartzite?  All questions that require more research.  Do I smell a thesis in the making?


Sometimes I gave the flakes sonic baths in this machine to clean the dirt off.


Taking up all four main tables – sorry, Anna!


Laying out my rocks


All the paperwork I was using in categorizing the flakes


Say hi, little groundstone fragment!


Look at all the pretty chert!


One of the bifaces from Housepit 8


Hi Anna!

IMG_0678 (2)

Base of the Shuswap Horizon dart point from Housepit 7


The four Kamloops points from HP 8


A quartzite tool


Another quartzite tool fragment. We often find quartzite in disk shapes, so this is likely a fragment from one of those tools.


Lithics Chapter

Pretty cool to see my name on an official report, even if it’s still only in the Word document stage!

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