Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

What is usewear analysis?

Usewear is a technique used for examining wear traces which can tell us more about how different artefacts were used. Dr Aimee Little explains more.
In order to understand more about how flint and other types of tools that we find were used or functioned we analyse them under the microscope and look for traces of their use in past activities - a process called usewear analysis. But before doing this, we have to know what these sorts of use traces would look like. By making our own flint tools and then carrying out experiments such as using them in butchery, hide working, bead manufacture and plant processing, we can look at them under the microscope and compare the traces on the replica tools with traces that we see on the archaeological tools.
Having applied this scientific approach to some of the Star Carr material we have been able to say more about what people were doing with certain tools. What is interesting is that when we look at where these tools are found at the site, we can see evidence for activity areas, suggesting people cared about where certain tool using activities took place. For instance, in one part of the site we found evidence for awls which appear to have been used for both piercing animal hide and stone and so we think it likely that these were used for making shale beads that we also find on the site, with some possibly also used to make clothing.
Although microliths are a type of tool most often associated with hunting, the microliths that have been found show a range of different uses. For instance, five pieces found together, likely from the same arrow, show impact damage and longitudinal meat traces, suggesting that this was one projectile weapon made up of barbs and a point. Another microlith has evidence of both hide and mineral traces on it suggesting it was used as a craft tool to scrape and pierce. Two other microliths show evidence of plant working traces, one used for cutting and another scraping or peeling.
Many of the tools also show evidence for hafting, that is the shafts or handles, probably made out of wood, used for holding the tool, and this evidence is important because hafts have not survived on the site. Overall, applying this scientific approach to these artefacts reveals previously invisible evidence which can tell us so much more about how tools were used for different types of activities in the past. We have to be careful not to assume that one tool type was only used for one specific type of job and from carrying out use wear we can begin to see the broad range of activities people carried out 11,000 years ago.
This article is from the free online

Exploring Stone Age Archaeology: The Mysteries of Star Carr

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now