Ground stones

Ground stone tools from Drakaina Cave: An overview


The ground stone assemblage from Drakaina Cave numbers four hundred and thirty seven (437) artifacts, all recovered from undisturbed neolithic layers throughout the years 1992-2002. Based on morphological criteria, use wear patterns and raw materials the ground stone artifacts were classified at two distinct categories (Bekiaris forthcoming): passive tools and active tools. I should note here that the term ‘tool’ refers to an implement that has been used in various ways to alter matter (see also Stroulia 2010). Vessels, figurines and ornaments made of stone  were excluded for the aforementioned categories and would be discussed elsewhere.


Passive tools

Passive tools comprise 103 specimens (25% of the total assemblage). The term ‘passive’ describes an implement that is used in a stationary mode while another handheld tool or object moves over it. All the passive tools were made by local sandstone or limestone, collected in the form of water worn cobbles and boulders from the nearby streambeds or coasts. Most passive implements are a posteriori tools, which mean that they were shaped exclusively through use, without being submitted to manufacture. However, some of them exhibit pecking marks on their base, sides and active surfaces. The well known technique of pecking (see Kardulias and Runnels 1995; Adams 2002) was employed to create a working surface, to restore the surface’s sharpness when it became dull or to form a flat or concave base to increase the tools stability. The passive tools are defined by the presence of one or two, flat or concave, open, unbounded work faces and by the fact that they have acted primarily in a diffused passive abrasive mode. On some tools small impact fractures and scars are also visible, indicating that the tool has also acted at a passive percussive mannerPassive tool with traces of diffused abrasive wear. The purpose of the passive tools was the processing of substances placed between the passive surface and a handheld, active implement moving over it (as in seeds grinding) or the alteration of an object’s shape and texture through immediate and active contact with the passive surface (as in a bone tool shaping; see also Stroulia 2010).

The vast majority of the passive tools are considered small or medium sized tools. The length of most specimens ranges from 15 to 25 cm, while their width from 10 to 20 cm. The sizes of these tools are considered to be rather incompatible for some activities, such as cereal grinding (Stroulia 2010; in press). Only 5 tools whose length ranges from 30 to 45 cm and their width exceeds the 20 cm could have been effectively used for such a task. The small passive implements were certainly more suitable for pounding or breaking the seed, in order to produce small amounts of groat which could have been cooked and consumed along with milk, honey, fruits and other spices (Stroulia 1998; 2010; in press).

About 30 passive tools preserve traces of dark or light red pigment, probably hematite (Melfos forthcoming). Pigment stains are located in the active faces of both passive and active tools indicating that pigment processing was certainly a basic function for Drakaina’s ground stone tools.

Other possible functions of Drakaina’s passive tools could include the manufacture of shell and stone ornaments, the grinding of dried meat and fish, the preparation of herbs, spices and medicinal plants and the processing of bark and wood (Stroulia 2010).


Active tools

Active tools comprise the most numerous group of Drakaina’s ground stone assemblage counting 334 artefacts (75% of the assemblage). These tools have acted at an active abrasive and percussive manner, as they moved over a passive surface, altering its shape and texture. Based on morphological and use wear similarities the large category of the active tools has been divided on four distinct and homogenous groups of tools:

1. Cutting edge tools

2. Globular tools

3. Rectangular and/or elliptical tools

4. Pebble tools

Cutting edge tools

Drakaina Cave yielded only 6 artifacts with an acute edge located in one of their edges. Those tools are thought to represent the stone parts (the heads) of composite tools that once could have included a wooden or antler shaft (the handle) and some adhesive material or another form of binding (Stroulia 2003). They are strategically designed tools, shaped with a combination of pecking and grinding techniques and according to petrographic analysis (Melfos forthcoming) were made exclusively out of gabbro, a rock which originates at distant regions of mainland Greece. Therefore, it is highly possible that the cutting edge tools reached Kefalonia as finished products through social networks (Stratouli & Melfos 2008). Their sizes are considered rather small or medium with their lengths ranging from 2 to 7 cm.

All the specimens of the category are intact or nearly intact tools and they acted in an active percussive and linear mode to cut through other objects and materials. Traces of chipping wear located at the acute edgActive cutting edge tooles of some specimens suggest the resistance of the worked material to the tool that penetrated it. Whether this material was wood, bone or even meat or leather requires a more elaborate examination of the cutting tools’ use wear. However, their vague presence at the Cave suggests that no systematic activities (e.g. woodworking) which required their presence took place at the site.


Globular tools

The group includes 21 implements that were used in an active mode to perform actions of percussion. Most globular tools exhibit more than one facets or ends that carry diffused punctiform percussive wear such as deep or swallow impact fractures, rarely accompanied with scars and chips. They are expediently designed, formed on local sandstone and limestone water-rolled cobbles and pebbles. They share a general globular shape but they vary greatly in sizes with their diameters ranging from 4 cm to 14.8 cm and their thickness from 3.5 to 7.1 cm. The purpose of these tools was to remove, by chipping or smashing, unwanted parts of other items. The smallest specimens in the category would be suitable for the processing of chert, an activity strongly documented in Active globular tool with traces of percussive wearDrakaina’s archaeological record (Andreasen forthcoming). Other, possible uses would include the resharpening of the passive ground stone tools, the breaking and splitting of bones, the processing of plants foods and seeds (e.g. the breaking of nuts) and to a limited extent the preparation of pigments, stains of which have been preserved at only 3 specimens.


Rectangular/elliptical tools

The largest group in the ‘active tools’ category displays the greatest heterogeneity of all, since it comprises 165 tools that have been used in an active mode and primarily -though not exclusively- in a diffused abrasive manner. They have one or two open, unbounded, parallel and opposite work faces, exhibiting such wear. At 44 specimens the active diffused abrasive wear located on the tools’ faces is combined with active punctiform percussive wear located on the tools’ edges. The tools of the group are of various rectangular, sub-rectangular and elliptical shapes and also of several sizes but the vast majority of them are of sizes suitable for use with only one hand. Again they are a posteriori tools, shaped on local limestone and sandstone rocks not through manufacture but exclusively through use. About half of the tools in this group are stained with red/light orange pigment, probably from processing a colouring agent. The pigment processing which would have occurred at the stone surfaces of some of the passive implements engaged both abrasive and percussive actions, as indicated from use wear on the active tools. Perhaps the pigments were first smashed into smaller pieces and then were grounded and mixed with water and other substances in order to produce dye. TActive elliptical tool with traces of diffused abrasive wearhe non stained active tools could have been used as the upper parts of the passive tools in order to process substances, such as grains, plant food, spices and salt placed between the two contact stone surfaces. An independent use without the support of a passive counterpart could include the removal of fat, flesh and tissues from hides, if such an activity occurred at the Cave.


Pebble tools

The group comprise 134 intact tools with one or more open faces and edges that have been used primarily to alter a contact surface, to smooth its texture or to accentuate its appearance through abrasion. At some cases the diffused abrasive wear has been transformed into a thin layer of sheen or at spots of sheen covering portions of the tools active surface. These tools are a posteriori tools, formed exclusively on small limestone pebbles gathered from the nearby coasts.

The term pebble is used to refer to rocks with measure below 7 cm in maximum dimension. Similar tools are vaguely discussed in the literature and consequently information on other neolithic contexts is limited. However, pebble tools are often associated with actions of abrading and smoothing, particularly with the manufacture of ornaments, bone tools, wooden tools and pottery burnishing. Traces of red pigments preserved on the faces of the most oblong specimens alongside with dense scars of multiple directions and the formation of sheen could indicate their participation in potteActive pebble toolsry burnishing (Adams 2002). However, there is no other evidence suggesting that such an activity actually occurred at Drakaina. The relation of the pebble tools with ornament manufacture is of course another option but again we lack sufficient evidence to support that such a process was hosted on the site. The presence of pebble tools in Drakaina remains yet an enigmatic issue that requires further research at the near future.



Drakaina Cave provided a plethora of ground stone implements used for various tasks. Food preparation, pigment processing and chert knapping are for the time being the main activities that occurred on site and involved the use of ground stone tools (Bekiaris forthcoming). I discuss below some intriguing characteristics of Drakaina’s ground stone assemblage.

It seems that in Drakaina only a few types of the ‘typical’ neolithic ground stone inventory are present. Grinding, percussion and polishing activities are represented by some -albeit not all- known tooltypes, while implements such as grooved abraders, smoothers, mortars, pestles, spinning, weaving, perforating and cutting tools are totally absent. In my opinion there was a selection of very specific types of ground stone tools that reached the site, in order to serve very specific needs. In addition to that, most pieces are single-use artefacts, meaning that they haven’t been used extensively beyond their primary function nor have they supported diverse tasks in their tool life cycle. Again, this suggests that they came to Drakaina Cave to support specific activities. Another intriguing feature concerns the fact that the tools were disposed at the Cave when they were still usable and active. Most implements are intact and their wear damage is rather limited, indicating that their use wasn’t exhaustive. It seems that the ground stone tools at Drakaina were disposed when their role at the Cave ended, perhaps with the completion of the tasks they were to serve. Furthermore, the avoidance of the manufacture process suggest that there was a need to bring these stones into the Cave and use them immediately without altering their physical shapes and sizes in order to make them more comfortable to use or extend their effectiveness.

To sum up, I conclude that in Drakaina the ground stone tools were supposed to be used directly after their collection, to serve specific needs and that their life cycle ended with the completion of these activities. To my opinion these observations could suggest that the visits in Drakaina Cave were temporal and that they included a group of specific tasks. As discussed elsewhere  (e.g. Stratouli 2005; 2007) those visits could have the character of small group feastings that included various activities, such as the preparation and consumption of food, animal hunting, the making of chert tools, pigment processing and ornament attire (Bekiaris forthcoming).



Adams, J.L. 2002. Ground stone analysis. A technological approach. Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press.

Andreasen, N.H. (forthcoming) Chipped stones from the Late and Final Neolithic levels at Drakaina Cave, Kefalonia. A preliminary report. In G. Stratouli (ed.) Drakaina Cave on Kephalonia island, Western Greece. A place of social activity during the Neolithic. INSTAP Academic Press.

Bekiaris, T. (forthcoming) Ground stone tools from Drakaina Cave: Grounds for thought. In G. Stratouli (ed.) Drakaina Cave on Kephalonia Island, Western Greece: A place of social activity during the Neolithic, INSTAP Academic Press.

Kardulias, P. & C. Runnels 1995. Flaked stone and other nonflaked lithics. In C. Runnels, D.J. Pullen & S. Langdon (eds.) Artifact and assemblage, pp. 109-139. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Melfos, V. (forthcoming) Mineralogical composition of pigments from the neolithic deposits of Drakaina Cave, Kephalonia, Ionian Islands. In G. Stratouli (ed.) Drakaina Cave on Kephalonia Island, Western Greece: A place of social activity during the Neolithic, INSTAP Academic Press.

Stratouli, G., 2005. Symbolic behaviour at places of social activity beyond the Ionian Neolithic. Documenta Praehistorica XXXII: 123-132

Stratouli, G. 2007. Tracing the Ionian Neolithic: The contribution of recent excavations in Drakaina Cave, Poros, Kephalonia (in Greek with a summary in English), in G. Arvanitou-Metallinou dir., Prehistoric Corfu and its adjacent areas. Problems - Perspectives, Proceedings of the Meeting in Honour of Augustos Sordinas, Corfu 17 December 2004, Corfu, Hellenic Ministry of Culture, pp. 105-126.

Stratouli, G. & V. Melfos 2008. Exchange networks in the Neolithic of Greece: gabbro and talc objects from Drakaina Cave, Kephalonia Island, Western Greece. In Y. Facorellis, N. Zacharias, K. Polikreti (eds.) Proceedings of the 4th Symposium of the Hellenic Society for Archaeometry, BAR International Series 1746, pp. 381-387.

Stroulia, A. 1998. Millstones and cereal processing at Neolithic Franchthi. Paper presented at the 100th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, December 27-30, 1998, Washington D.C. (abstract in American Journal of Archaeology 103 (1999):308).

Stroulia, A. 2003. Ground Stone Celts from Franchthi Cave: A Close Look. Hesperia. 72(1): 1-30.

Stroulia, A. 2010. Flexible Stones: Ground Stone Tools from Francthi Cave, Fascicle 14, Excavation in Francthi Cave, Greece, Indiana University Press.

Stroulia, A. in press. Passive abrasive tools and grain preparation for consumption at Franchthi Cave, Greece. In A. Colosimo (ed.) Macine nell’antichità: dalla Preistoria all’età romana. Ufficio Beni Archeologici.



Tasos Bekiaris
September 2010
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