Technical Report

Environment, Prehistory & Archaeology of Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Greg C. Burtchard

Appendix B:

by Stephen C. Hamilton

A lithic assemblage inventory was applied to sites and isolates investigated during the 1995 reconnaissance project in order to quantitatively assess site diversity. We hope that the method represents an improvement over general descriptions, which often overlook subtle differences in assemblage characteristics. Although subjective aspects remain, the categories are intended to maximize replicability by adherence to fixed attribute definitions. There are, of course, nagging problems of biases introduced by depositional variation, ground visibility, small sample size and collection by artifact hunters. Nevertheless, we feel that the present inventory has proven to be a useful means to more clearly describe site characteristics and build a stronger inferential foundation for technological organization and site function.

The basic procedure for the Mount Rainier project involved flagging individual artifacts and then walking from flag to flag tallying artifact by type (defined below) within basic raw material categories. When deemed appropriate, comments on specific artifacts, assemblage character, visibility and other variables were noted.

All artifacts were classed within raw material types. These include various cryptocrystalline silicates (CCS), volcanic basalts, volcanic metasediment and obsidian. CCS material is subdivided into jasper (red and tan), various color phases of chert (opaque) and chalcedony (translucent). All raw material types except obsidian are available at primary sources on the mountain and alluvial gravels associated with the mountain's watershed system. Artifact definitions and discussion follow below.


Debitage is the waste material from manufacturing tools that shows no subsequent shaping or use as a tool. Debitage is subdivided into categories that represent general stages of manufacture. The description and rational for these categories are discussed below.

Cortical flake (CF)
A flake with cortex on its dorsal face. This category does not include cortical platform flakes. [Result of initial nodule reduction].

Secondary, Interior flake (IF)
Flakes without cortex that are greater than 5 mm thick. [Result of initial nodule reduction, core shaping (preparation), amorphous core reduction and early stage tool shaping].

Tertiary Interior flake (TIF)
Flakes without cortex that are less than 5 mm thick. [Result of flake production from prepared cores and mid stage tool shaping (i.e., edging process)].

Biface flake (BF and BTF)
Flakes with a biface edge platform or with multiple dorsal flake scars, often with longitudinal flake scar ridges. They are usually curvilinear. They include mostly percussion flakes, but also some larger pressure flakes. [Result of mid and late stage biface shaping and thinning].

Retouch flake (RF)
Small flakes, usually pressure flakes. [Result of biface finishing and maintenance of bifaces and flake tool edges (i.e., resharpening)].

Blocky debris that is less than 5 cm with no distinguishable ventral surface that would define it as a flake and no flake scars that would define it as a core. [Result of early stage, core reduction].

Raw Material
A piece of potential parent material for making tools that is larger than 5 cm but has no apparent cultural modification such as flaking, battering or grinding. [Result of natural source or manuport into a site].

Debitage Discussion

The above debitage definitions are designed to categorize flakes rather quickly in the field while maintaining their integrity as representing basic stages of manufacture in a reduction sequence. Cortical Flakes (CF) are early-stage reduction flakes. These flakes are produced primarily during initial nodule reduction, including core shaping. Secondary, Interior Flakes (IF) are also early-stage reduction flakes produced during early core reduction and flake production using amorphous cores. They may also include flakes from early tool manufacture such as initial shaping of a uniface or biface. Tertiary Interior Flakes (TIF) are the result of late stage core reduction, usually of prepared cores (rather than amorphous cores), and, like IF, possibly early stage tool manufacture. In general, the higher the frequency of TIF flakes in an assemblage, the more emphasis on late stage reduction is represented. This can be the result of flake production from at least minimally prepared cores (cores with developed platforms) and mid-stage biface shaping. By contrast, high proportions of CF and IF flakes indicate earlier stages of reduction as a result of primary nodule reduction and initial core shaping and, to a lesser degree, initial tool shaping. We expect high frequencies of CF and IF flakes at procurement sites as compared to, for example, residential sites or butcher sites.

Biface flakes are produced during biface edging, shaping, and thinning (mid to late stage biface manufacture). They may also be produced from standardized biface cores. However, most identifiable biface flakes are the result of the later stages of biface shaping and thinning (mid to late stage). While biface flakes result from primarily percussion and early stage pressure biface shaping, retouch flakes are usually the result of biface finishing and tool maintenance. However, biface production can be highly variable. For example, arrow point production, in which pressure is applied to a flake blank during all stages of manufacture, will result in a relatively high frequency of retouch flakes as compared to a dart point in which percussion and pressure techniques are used in the shaping and thinning process. In addition to biface finishing, retouch flakes are produced during tool edge resharpening. In general, there should be a higher frequency of biface manufacture debitage at residential sites, while special task sites or short term hunting camps should have higher frequencies of retouch debitage from tool maintenance.


Cores were defined by shape and standardization. The morphological categories are as follows:

Polyhedral (amorphous)
Flake scars (or platforms) occur on two or more faces on a blocky piece of raw material.

Single platform
Flake scars originate from a single platform (nodule face). The parent nodule may be blocky.

A flat nodule or large flake that was flaked on one or two faces but the edge is not contiguous-early stage biface.

A flat core flaked on both faces. The flaked edge is contiguous-mid stage biface.

Standardized core
A core was described as standardized if it is well formed with regularized flake scars and a well prepared platform. These usually include blade cores and biface cores.

Expedient core
Most other cores are expedient. These include polyhedral cores and tabular and single platform cores with few flake scars and minimal platform preparation.

Tools and Preforms

At the most general level, tools and preforms are classified as biface, flake tool, cobble tool, and ground stone. A biface is substantially flaked on two faces. A flake tool is either minimally shaped such as retouch along one margin (uniface) or a flake that shows use-wear (used flake-patterned microflaking and/or polish). Ground stone artifacts show abrasion smoothing and polish from use and/or manufacture. Ground stone typically includes milling stones for plant processing such as metates, mortars, hand stones (manos), and pestle-mauls. Cobble tools, on the other hand, exhibit flaking, crushing, and/or battering from shaping and use. Cobble tools include edge battered cobbles, choppers, other flaked slab tools and various hammerstones. The functional definitions of cobble tools and ground stone are conventional and therefore not specified here.

For this project, fine-grained flaked tools included primarily projectile points, miscellaneous bifaces, unifaces, and used flakes. For the sake of analysis replication, some of these are worth defining.

Projectile point
Finished bifaces with a hafting element or other biface fragments with impact fractures. These include three functional types: arrow points with a neck width of less than 7 mm; dart points with a neck width of 7 - 15 mm; and lance points with a neck width of greater than 15 mm. When possible, the Great Basin Type was noted. All projectile points were also sketched.

A flake tool with substantial unifacial retouch on at least one margin. Retouch is identified as patterned flaking with flake scars 3 mm or greater. Unifaces include scrapers (edge angle 60 - 90 degrees), shavers (edge angle 20 - 60 degrees), and cutters (edge angle <20 degrees). Edge angles were estimated, not measured.

Used flake
A flake with patterned microflaking (less than 3 mm flake scars) and/or polish.

Preforms that were identified in the field are usually bifaces. These were defined according to general stages of manufacture. Early stage preforms are in the edging process and therefore not flaked completely around their circumference (Callahan 1979-Stage 2). Mid stage bifaces have been completely edged, but have not been thinned (Callahan 1979-Stage 3). Late stage bifaces are edged and almost completely thinned but need final shaping. They have irregular margins without the completion of finishing retouch (Callahan 1979-Stage 4).


Callahan, E.
1979 The Basics of Biface Knapping in the Eastern Fluted Point Tradition: A Manual for Flint Knapper and Lithic Analysts. Archaeology of Eastern North America 7(1):1-179.

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Last Updated: Monday, 18-Oct-2004 20:10:54
Author: Natural & Cultural Resources Division

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