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A microlith is a small stone tool that is sufficiently worked so as to be distinguishable from workshop waste or accidents. They are usually made of flint or chert and are typically one centimetre long and half a centimetre wide. Microliths were produced from either small blades (microblades) or larger blades by abrupt or truncated retouching, which leaves a very typical piece of waste (microburin). Two families of microlith are usually defined: laminar and geometric. Geometric microliths can be various kinds of triangles, lunate shaped, trapezes etc. The shape of the microlith can be used to estimate the antiquity of archeological sites. Laminar microliths are associated with the end of the Upper Paleolithic and the beginning of the Epipaleolithic; and geometric microliths are characteristic of the Mesolithic and the Neolithic. Microlith production generally declined following the introduction of agriculture (8000 BCE) but continued later in cultures with a deeply rooted hunting tradition.
Regardless of type, microliths were used to form the points of hunting weapons such as spears and (in later periods) arrows and on other composite tools. Microliths are found throughout Europe and Asia.


Laminar and non geometric microliths

Laminar microliths gradually arose during the Upper Paleolithic. According to J Guichard the Noilles Burins and «Microgravettes» indicate that microlithization had already started in the Gravettian.[1] The process continued, notably flourishing during the Magdalenian and persisted later in numerous Epipaleolithic traditions, above all in those of the circum-mediterranean area. These microliths are slightly larger than the geometric microliths and they were made from the flakes of flint obtained ad hoc from a small nucleus or from a depleted nucleus. The technique used, given that the support is not very large, was either percussion or variable pressure (although pressure is the best option, it is complicated and was not the most commonly used technique).[2] There are three basic types of laminar microlith:

  • The truncated blade (where one or both of the lower ends are formed by abrupt retouching) can be divided into a number of types depending of the position of the truncation (oblique, square, double etc.) and according to its form (concave, convex etc.). «Raclette scrapers» are notable for their particular form, they are blades or flakes whose edges have been sharply retouched until they are semicircular or shapeless. Raclettes are indefinite cultural indicators as, in larger sizes, they appear throughout the Stone Age.

Flint blade

  • Backed edge blades (with one of the edges, generally the side one, rounded or chamfered by abrupt retouching), there are fewer types, for example, those where the entire edge is rounded or only a part, those that are straight or not etc. According to Fortea Pérez they are a fundamental type in the blade forming processes, from which innumerable other types have been developed.[3] A number of examples are described here, firstly the «Dufour Bladelet», which is up to three centimeters in size, finely shaped with a curved profile whose retouches are semi-abrupt and which characterizes a particular phase of the Aurignacian period; «Solutrean backed bladelets», bladelets with pronounced abrupt retouching, so that they are long and narrow and that, although rare, characterize certain phases of the Solutrean period; the «Ouchtata bladelet» is similar to the others, except that the retouched back is not uniform but irregular, it characterizes certain periods of the Epipaleolithic saharans: the Ibero-Maurusian and the «Montbani bladelet», with a partial and irregular lateral retouching which is characteristic of the Italian Tardenoisian.[4]
  • The micro points , very sharp bladelets formed by abrupt retouching; there are a huge number of regional varieties of these microliths, nearly all of which would be very hard to distinguish (especially those from the western area), if it were not for the archeological context in which they usually appear.

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