Use-Wear Analysis and Post-Depositional Impacts

An Academic Paper Review

Photo by Kenneth Carpina from Pexels
Photo by Kenneth Carpina from Pexels

In my continuing review of the recent literature concerning use-wear analysis of stone tools, I encountered an excellent paper by Werner (2018). In this paper, Werner reports on the impact of post-depositional damage in accurately identifying use-wear traces on stone tools.

Werner summarizes very well the current status of use-wear research:

First, the formation of use-wear is not yet completely understood.

Second, there has arguably been an overemphasis on the study of flint/chert assemblages leaving use-wear on non-flint tool-stones underexamined.

Third, many aspects of the burial environment are known to be capable of interfering with the interpretability of use-traces.

Lastly, the majority of use-wear analyses remain inherently subjective, difficult to reproduce and independently verify.

To address 3 and 4, Werner conducts a post-depositional experiment using a laser confocal microscope. This microscope is capable of capturing measurements to quantify changes in use-wear traces after post-depositional impacts.

The experiment:

Werner used 10 dacite flakes, gray volcanic stone, in a sawing motion on wood covered in bark, dry antler, dry hide, and dry grass stems and leaves for 40 minutes each. These used flakes were than placed in a sieve with sand and shaken for 30, 60, and 90 minutes.

Werner found that post-depositional damage in this experiment was correlated with the amount of shaking time. By 90 minutes, post-depositional damage obliterated most of the original use-wear traces.

Key findings:

Antler and wood use-wear traces were the most impacted from post-depositional damage.

Polish from use on plant material is distinctive and can more easily be identified even with post-depositional impacts.

Experiments such as these are important, as Werner states:

The likely reality is that lightly and moderately damaged assemblages are analyzed routinely, either knowingly or unknowingly.


Werner, J Jeffrey. 2018. An experimental investigation of the effects of post-depositional damage on current quantitative use-wear methods. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 17: 597-604.

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