Old Masters of Quartz


Wednesday was another day guest-digging at one of Mattias Pettersson & Roger Wikell's sites in the Tyresta woods, this one in the huge denuded area of the great forest fire. Otherworldly scenery! It's the unusually high site discussed here three years ago by Mattias. And since we're dealing with seal hunters in an area with swift shoreline displacement, it's in all likelihood the oldest of the lot: 10 000 years, give or take half a millennium. It's so old that it's pre-stone-axe. The characteristic greenstone flakes left over from the making of Mesolithic axes don't go as high as this.


The finds are all quartz (and a single chip of precious imported flint). And I saw quartz objects that I've never seen before. Just in my two tiny excavation squares I found the site's first microblade, a large unusual biface with a notch at the end (top left below) and something that looked a lot like a trapezoid microlith. The guys just smiled wryly and said "There's no such thing as a quartz microlith, ask anybody." But what really struck me was the first series of standardised formal quartz tools I've ever seen. Size, shape, production method - all the same.


The Early Mesolithic type Tyresta semi-discoid quartz blade knife. Despite the fact that quartz fractures in an almost unpredictable manner. These people really knew how to work it, bringing chunks of it on their sealing expeditions to the remote group of tiny islands that is now the heights of Tyresta.

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"Despite the fact that quartz fractures in an almost unpredictable manner." Not so. I made this same false assumption many moons ago in front of a guy who makes his living reproducing the past. He banged out the most perfect Archaic period Morrow Mountain pp/k (projectile point/knife) you ever saw from the quartz gravel at our feet in about 5 minutes.
Many forms of quartz in the Southeast US aren't worth much in terms of their "knappability," but in the right hands it can be knapped, and skillfully so. To do that requires knowledge of how it will fracture.

Oh, just a quick follow up - that assemblage looks like it could have come from any ridge or hilltop in the Georgia (US) piedmont region, though from sites of a more recent age.

"Milky" quartz or "bull" quartz? I can work it. It isn't exhilarating, but it can be done.


By Blind Squirrel (not verified) on 21 May 2010 #permalink

Most of it is milky, with inclusions of translucent bull quartz. It has a lovely greasy sheen.

Any north swedish schooled archaeologist, can tell you quartz is not random in its pattern of breaking, it´s just a tougher material to work with.

But it makes damn durable tools aswell. The stone age people in north scandinavia used almost exclusively quartz or slate for their stone tools. Later they included quartzite in their repetoir. They did not bother with importning that fancy stuff called flint. When some dudes tried to come and establish some farmer settlement along the Västerbotten coast and brought with them hordes of flint axes during the battleaxe period, it seems that in the end the northscandinavians basically said:
Bugger of! And tolled Martins ancestors to get in their boasts and get of their sealing ground and bathing beaches!

Whatever silly flintaxes remained got chopped up with quartzstriking techniques and used for random stuff. Using so much and crappy material just to make a fething axe? Silly southerners! :P

PS. Martin knows about my feelings towards the swedish conquest and colonization of north inland Scandinavia.DS