Refitting of lithic artefacts

The following text is a reworked version of the introduction to my discussion of lithic refitting in the volume ’Flintstudier - en håndbog i sy­stematiske analyser af flintinventarer‘ (Flint Studies - a Hand­book in Systematic Analyses of Flint Assemblages). This book was edited by Dr Berit Eriksen and published at Aarhus University Press in the year 2000.

Complementary lithic artefacts have been refitted or conjoined by archaeologists since the late 19th Century, first as a curiosity, but later to provide answers to specific research questions. Lithic refitting has offered answers to problems within three key areas, namely 1) technology; 2) stratigraphy; and 3) latent intra-site spatial structures.

By the end of the 1920s, the method was being used to shed light on lithic technological details, such as the function of core rejuvenation flakes in the operational schemas of blade production (Hamal-Nandrin & Servais 1929); specific details relating to the production of certain types of burins (Siret 1933); and the principles behind the microburin technique (Vignard 1934). In the 1940s, the approach was used for the first time as a means of stratigraphic control (Bonc-Osmolovskij 1940).

By the middle of the 1960s, the method experienced its proper break-through. Although Spurrell (1880) had 'sensed' the spatial structuring of some Palaeolithic flint-scatters, it was not possible to deal properly with the spatial structures of lithic scatters until excavation techniques and recording methods had been refined. The first attempt at applying lithic refitting to the investigation of a large prehistoric settlement site was made at Pincevent in France (Leroi-Gourhan & Brezillon 1966; 1972). The results included increased knowledge of operational schemas, as well as of settlement organization and human behaviour.

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Refitting the Brommian Upper Palaeolithic assemblage of Højgård, Zealand, Denmark.

Refitting the Brommian Upper Palaeolithic assemblage of Højgård, Zealand, Denmark.

The successes of the Pincevent Project inspired researchers throughout North-West Europe to set up similar projects, usually focusing on the sites' latent spatial structures and human behaviour (Rheindahlen: Bosinski 1966; Etiolles: Pigeot et al. 1976; Meer II: van Noten 1978; Gönnersdorf: Bosinski 1979; Verberie: Audouze et al. 1981).

Unfortunately, lithic refitting is a time-consuming, and thus expensive, approach, and before the method is used, the analyst should make absolutely certain that 1) the assemblage is a suitable object for this approach (appropriately excavated/recorded), and 2) that the defined research questions cannot be answered in other and cheaper ways. Although I have refitted entire assemblages (eg, Ballin 1991), it is frequently possible to carry out limited refitting of parts of an assemblage to answer limited questions. In connection with the analysis of the lithic finds from the Late Hamburgian settlement of Howburn, southern Scotland, it was attempted to refit blade and tool fragments to increase the number of available full-size Havelte points, as these pieces are the main diagnostic pieces of the later Hamburgian period (Ballin et al. 2010; forthcoming).

Refit Complexes 6 and 58 from Højgård, Zealand, Denmark: 6) Decortication and
platform-defining flakes surrounding the impression of a so-called 'phantom core';
and 58) a blade and flake series.

Four bipolar cores and flakes conjoined to form the original flint nodule – Lundevågen 21 (Ballin 1999).