Lithic flake

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In archaeology, a lithic flake is a "portion of rock removed from an objective piece by percussion or pressure,"[1] and may also be referred to as a chip or spall, or collectively as debitage. The objective piece, or the rock being reduced by the removal of flakes, is known as a core.[2] Once the proper tool stone has been selected, a percussor or pressure flaker (e.g. an antler tine) is used to direct a sharp blow, or apply sufficient force, respectively, to the surface of the stone, often on the edge of the piece. The energy of this blow propagates through the material, often (but not always) producing a Hertzian cone of force which causes the rock to fracture in a controllable fashion. Since cores are often struck on an edge with a suitable angle (x<90°) for flake propagation, the result is that only a portion of the Hertzian cone is created. The process continues as the flintknapper detaches the desired number of flakes from the core, which is marked with the negative scars of these removals. The surface area of the core which received the blows necessary for detaching the flakes is referred to as the striking platform.

Contents

Production

Flakes may be produced by a variety of means. Force may be introduced by direct percussion (striking the core with a percussor such as a rock or antler), indirect percussion (striking the core with an object, sometimes referred to as a "punch," which itself is struck by a percussor, similar to the use of a hammer and chisel to shape stone), or by pressure. Additionally, flakes may be initiated in a Hertzian, bending, or wedging fashion. When a flake is detached from its core in a Hertzian fashion, the flake propagates in a conchoidal manner from the point of impact or pressure, producing a (usually) partial Hertzian cone. The cone of force often leaves a distinctive bulb of applied force on the flake and a corresponding flake scar on the core. A bending initiation results when a flake initiates not at the point where the force was applied, but rather further away from the edge of the core, resulting in a flake with no Hertzian cone or bulb of applied force and few if any of the characteristics ripples or undulations seen on the ventral surface of conchoidally produced flakes. Wedging initiation is the result of a strong hammer blow. At impact, concenctric radii emanate from the point of percussion, but unlike conchoidal fracture, the force travels along what would be the center of the Hertzian cone. The bipolar reduction technique is typified by its use of wedge initiation. Like bending initiation, no bulb of applied force results from wedging initiation, although in the bipolar technique, flakes may appear to have two points of percussion, on opposite ends, due to the fact that the core has been fractured by a hammer and anvil technique. The core is placed on a hard surface or "anvil" and is struck above by a hammer, thus the fracture may propagate from both ends simultaneously.

The end which received the blow or pressure is referred to as the proximal end of the flake; the terminal end is referred to as the distal end. The side displaying the bulb of force but without flake scars (barring an errailure flake scar or additional working of the flake) is called the ventral (or interior) surface, while the opposite side, displaying the flake scars of previous removals, or the cortical or original rock surface, is the dorsal (or exterior) surface.

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