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

Stone Tools in the Lab

Methods applied to stone tools in a lab environment with the intention of extracting evidence

Once excavated, artefacts are carefully air-dried and wrapped to avoid being touched. Similarly, when they are delivered to the lab, gloves are worn, so that the artefacts remain untouched and uncontaminated. A series of procedures are then followed…

The following methods are applied to stone tools in a lab environment to extract evidence that addresses the following questions about the artefacts:

  • What were they used for?
  • What did they come into contact with?

1. Photography

Photographs and careful documentation of observations of the artefact in its raw form are captured. The artefact is removed, the surrounding sediments are photographed, and the artefact is photographed from every angle.

2. Taking samples

Samples are extracted from the surface of the artefact and the surrounding sediments for analysis of organic molecules (e.g. lipids) and the chemical composition of the sediments.

3. Microscopy and washing of artefact

The artefact is viewed (before and after washing) under low-powered magnification to identify obvious roots, damage, scarring features etc. It is then viewed under higher magnification to identify the orientation of scratch marks or striations, the nature and angle of scars, polish from use, and the amount of rounding of the use-wear traces.

4. Spectroscopy

An artefact may then be passed on for further analysis using ‘vibrational spectroscopy’ (Raman and FTIR), which is a technique that uses scattered and reflected light to identify the chemical composition of particles (e.g. proteins, lipids, carbohydrates).

5. Analysis of cleaned surfaces of washed artefacts

After microscopy and spectroscopy observations, documentation of the artefact’s polished surfaces takes place to add further insights to the past use of the artefact.

Conversation starter

  • Why is it important that the artefact remains untouched?

  • Why is it important to consider the sediments with which the artefact has come into contact?

This article is from the free online

Homo Floresiensis Uncovered: The Science of ‘the Hobbit’

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