Acquisition and Consumption of Chert in Drakaina Cave

Acquisition and Consumption of Chert in Drakaina Cave

Stone tools dominate archaeological assemblages from most prehistoric periods in Greece, whereas organic artefacts are susceptible to decay caused by biological agents and soil acidity over long periods of time. Prehistoric people worked a range of raw materials at their disposal, testing, selecting, choosing or rejecting them according to their abundance, their shape, and their suitability for working. The purpose of knapping chert is to make tools, in the wider sense of the term.

The excavation at Drakaina Cave has yielded a rich chert assemblage of primarily local provenience. More than 10,500 pieces of chipped chert have been recovered from the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic horizons, of which more than 530 are retouched tools and 120 are flakes and blade with usewear. The motivation for analyzing this assemblage is to investigate how chert was acquired and transformed into tools during the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods on Kefalonia. The study also aims to clarify issues regarding tool use as well as provide insight into the site’s organisation and use of space.

In 2009, this author carried out a small-scale raw material survey on Kefalonia during which several primary and secondary chert deposits were discovered (Figures 1 & 2). At this point in time, we have good indications that most of the chert materials used in the cave were acquired from sources on the island (Foss 2002; Melfos, in press). Generally, the same types of chert are present in similar proportions in all the archaeological levels of the Cave, indicating constant access and stable raw material acquisition strategies through a rather long period. In general, the lithic assemblage appears to be undifferentiated from the Late Neolithic to the Chalcolithic also as far as production technology and tool typology are concerned.

Figure 1

Figures 1 & 2: Chert sources in Myrtos BayPeople in the cave mostly produced simple, non-formalized flake tools. Archaeologically, these strategies are represented by a high percentage of flake tools relative to blade tools; a higher percentage of utilized flake tools than utilized blade tools; and a greater variety of use-tasks in association with flake tools. Parallel to this, local knappers in the Cave also produced high-quality bifacial products (‘bifacial’ means that very small thinning flakes are removed by pressure flaking along all edges) and prismatic blades from both local and imported material. Part of the analysis includes thousands of tiny pieces of chipped chert (2-10mm). These were retrieved during flotation of the Cave’s sediments and may include characteristic tool production debitage, such as small pressure flakes from the manufacture of bifacial projectile points.

Scrapers are produced mainly on flakes. A range of types is represented, including endscrapers (most numerous), sidescrapers, circular- and semi-circular scrapers. A double blade endscraper was found in a Late Neolithic context. Particularly well made is a small endscraper with hafting retouch in the form of concave notches.

Relatively common are blades and flakes with retouched, pointed distal end (Figure 3). Several blades have worn tips, which indicate their use as perforators. Other heavier, pointed blades with a triangular shape appear to be better suited for some sort of prying motion. Perforators occur as both delicately pointed pieces and heavy-duty flake borers (Figures 4 & 5).

Figure 3: Chert tool with pointed distal endFigure 4: Chert borerFigures 4 & 5: Chert perforators

Retouched blades are frequent and often have retouch along one or two edges. Notable is a Late Neolithic 10.6 cm long, prismatic macro-blade with two retouched edges (Figure 6). Its dimensions stand out in comparison with the remaining blades and it is possibly an imported ‘honey-flint’ product.

Figure 6: Chert prismatic macro-blade with retouched ends

The diversity of discarded tools suggests that a variety of activities were carried out at the Cave, many of which could be associated with routine residential maintenance tasks. Most tools seem to be best suited for cutting, scraping and drilling. Some tools were notched to facilitate hafting, and many (such as blade segments) were probably combined to form composite tools.

Debitage lacking clearly intentional retouch have not yet been studied in detail and are not included in this study. Macroscopic observations, however, showed the presence of use-wear on several blades and flakes. Others had visible silica gloss along the edges, which indicate intensive cutting of vegetal material (Semenov 1964:11-122; Moundrea-Agrafioti 1983).

The bifacial arrow points are the only clear examples of weapons, intended either for hunting or for warfare, although a number of other sharply pointed artefacts may have served the same purpose. Some of the arrow points show impact fractures at the distal end (Stratouli & Metaxas 2008). Manufacture of projectile points of cherts appears to have taken place within the Cave. Many are skilfully made and seem to constitute an important feature of the lithic assemblage that goes beyond local domestic use. If projectile points were produced and/or repaired at the Cave, it is possible that also arrow shafts with fitted steering feathers were manufactured. Such a task would require a host of suitable lithic tools for straightening, smoothing, and notching the shaft, cutting sinews and feathers, etc. In this sense, the artefact assemblage can be interpreted to reflect ‘final processing’ of activities started in a different locus.

The projectile points aside, a large part of the tool assemblage gives the impression of expedient production. They were made with little preparation for short-term tasks and were only rarely maintained to prolong their uselife. The preliminary analysis also implies that little care was taken to utilise the available raw material as thoroughly as possible and many cores and larger flakes are not fully exhausted. They were regularly discarded, it seems, because of fractures that occurred during knapping when the core was mis-struck (‘hinge-fractures’). At this point in time, we believe that this rather wasteful behaviour is a reflection of the availability and easy access to chert sources on the island.

The abundance of cherts suitable for knapping would have put local producers in an advantageous position for trading with these materials. However, the presence of exotic materials such as ‘honey-flint’, obsidian, and other materials is circumstantial evidence of social networks along which such material flowed (Perlθs 1992; Stratouli & Melfos 2008). Most likely they were desired materials not primarily because of their superior quality, but because their acquisition entailed travelling and exchange (Perlθs & Vitelli 1990, 102). The question, then, is one of explaining the role of such networks in relation to the communities at Kefalonia, which had access to rich, chert-producing bedrocks.


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Melfos, V., (in press), Characterization of stone artefacts from the neolithic deposits of Drakaina Cave, Kephalonia, Ionian Islands: A petrographic-geochemical approach for determination of raw materials and sources, in G. Stratouli (ed.), Drakaina Cave on Kephalonia Island, W. Greece: A Place of Social Activity during the Neolithic.

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Athens, May 2009
Niels H. Andreasen
Wiener Laboratory
Geoarchaeology Fellow 2008/09, ASCSA
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