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Exploring Heat Treatment of Silcrete Artefacts Through Non-destructive Infrared Analysis

Dr. Will Archer, HOD of Archaeology and Anthropology at the National Museum, presented last week at the 13th International Symposium on Knappable Materials in Tarragona, Spain, on the contentious stone heat-treatment debate in the southern African Stone Age. ‘Heat treatment’ means the heating of certain kinds of rocks to increase their qualities for artefact manufacture.

Over the past 10-12 years, archaeologists in southern Africa have debated the methods hominins used to heat-treat silcrete stone artefacts in the African Middle Stone Age, the period associated with the emergence of our species. To simplify, one position argues that heat-treatment was an elaborate and complex procedure, involving the carefully planned, indirect exposure of these rocks to heat (b). Other scientists have argued that silcrete heat-treatment was far simpler, and that this process was managed by hominins no differently than everyday fire-related activities such as cooking meat (a).

The central message of this poster is that the procedures hominins engaged to heat-treat silcrete artefacts can be accurately predicted. We can therefore use this method to assess how hominins heated stone to produce the artefacts they were after in the past, and to investigate what this suggests about the evolution of modern human behavior.

Stone tool enthusiasts can access the full poster here:

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