Let’s Knap! Workshop on Lithic Studies, October 3rd-9th, 2015
Check out our Photo Album on Facebook
One of the best ways of diving deep into our prehistoric past is to learn how they actually made stone tools. These stone artefacts are the primary source of evidence for most sites in South Asia, and are the most abundant, if not the only finds at prehistoric sites. It is based on these artefacts that we build most of our theories of past behaviour. In our workshops, we engage participants with the prehistoric past through theory, observations of actual artefacts from our collections and through experimental knapping (making these stone tools). Workshops build on the background knowledge of participants and enable them to carry their interests further.
The current workshop, held from October 3rd-9th 2015, at our campus in Sholinganallore Chennai, had a select group of 13 participants comprising senior faculty, doctoral and post-doctoral research scholars and Master’s students from archaeology, anthropology and history backgrounds. We began with a unique inauguration ceremony where students drew fire from our “prehistoric hearth” to light lamps that were set afloat on our campus pond.
The first day began with an introduction to lithic studies. The aim of this session was to introduce participants to this science, including properties of rocks used for stone tool manufacture, introduction to fracture mechanics, and basic concepts involved in lithic knapping. They were also introduced to the archaeology of the earliest Palaeolithic cultures dating back to more than 2 million years ago, with a focus on recent discoveries in Africa, and sites from elsewhere in the world. Following this, knapping experiments (actually making ancient stone tools using stone hammerstones) focused on techniques of simple flake detachment as also bipolar knapping.
On the second day, we led students through concepts of bifacial flaking and the Acheulian, with a focus on our own research at Attirampakkam, dating back to around 1.07-1.7 million years ago, and with our data from other sites in Tamil Nadu. Examples from key sites in India were also discussed. A brief introduction to bifacial flaking in later cultural phases was also provided. Acheulian artefacts from collections in Tamil Nadu and from Attirampakkam were discussed. Dr. Kumar Akhilesh knapped a handaxe and discussed issues involved. Students then proceeded to select appropriate raw material blanks to fashion simple handaxes on chert, and did a great job!
The third day focused on prepared core technological strategies with an emphasis on the Levallois concept. Lectures covered aspects of this technology as also debates on the same, and discussed Middle Palaeolithic/Middle Stone Age assemblages of Africa and Eurasia. A demonstration of the preferential Levallois technique was given by Dr. Akhilesh. Students were guided individually in the volumetric concept of shaping cores and were helped to strike preferential Levallois flakes.
The fourth day, covered aspects related to blade technology and production of microliths. Theoretical studies with a focus on recent research, were followed by observations of archaeological collections and experimentally knapped blades and microliths. Dr. Akhilesh demonstrated and guided participants through direct percussion techniques in blade detachment.
The fifth day, continued with demonstrations of indirect percussion and pressure techniques for blade detachment, by Dr. Akhilesh, as also by the microburin technique for shaping microliths. Participants were first individually guided through these processes and were then encouraged to use both indirect percussion and the microburin technique by themselves, resulting of production of numerous microlithic tools.
This was followed by an introduction to diverse ground stone tool technologies, and experimental knapping of a Neolithic celt, by grinding and polishing suitable cobbles. Lastly, participants experimented in tool use on different materials, recording a range of observations both before and after use.
Other aspects of the workshop included lectures on lithic analysis, photography and a special lecture of introduction to statistics for archaeologists by Mr. V.R.Pappu, while Mr. S.Udayakumar gave a demonstration on lithic photography. Overall, lectures were delivered by Prof. S.Pappu and Dr. K.Akhilesh.
In addition to this, most participants were encouraged to present research papers on their work. The workshop involved considerable discussion, including surprise activities to test the concepts taught during the day.
The session concluded with an ‘Exam’, where participants had to use stone tools and other naturally available material to build shelters, make their own hearths, and search for roots, tubers and nuts hidden in our ‘prehistoric’ campus, roast these, search for water and suitable containers and much more.
The valedictory ceremony involved distribution of certificates and mementos to all participants.