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Shadow of Doubt or Doubtful Shadows: Small-Scale Low-Density Lithic Scatters and Agrifacts

TitleShadow of Doubt or Doubtful Shadows: Small-Scale Low-Density Lithic Scatters and Agrifacts
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsStaley, D
JournalNorth American Archaeologist
Keywordsartifacts, attribute analyses, Chert flakes, lithics, shatter

The fundamental identification of flaked stone as artifact is critical to all that follows in archaeology. The identification of sites, interpretations of prehistoric behaviors, adaptations, land use patterns, settlement and subsistence studies, etc. can be distilled to the initial determination of an artifact as being “real” or the result of natural or accidental phenomena such as plow damage. In cultural resource management, artifact identification drives immediate field decisions to modify research strategies and ultimately forms the argumentative basis for research potentials and determinations of significance. Chert flakes and shatter discovered during a NYSDOT sponsored project conducted by New York State Museum-Cultural Resource Survey Program were subjected to a battery of lithic attribute analyses in an attempt to identify artifacts in an agricultural area blanketed by natural chert. With the exception of exotic material types, no single attribute can certainly identify human involvement. A cumulative score of multiple attributes affords greater levels of confidence for cultural vs. natural determinations for larger assemblages. In settings with the “background noise” of natural chert in cultivated soils, cultural genesis determinations of single pieces and very small sparse assemblages must be recognized as hunches or faith-based decisions yet worthy of measured continued investigation.