Monday, January 27, 2014

Flake Tools and Deer Hide

Hi all,

The other day my friend Angela Gore shot an Axis deer near Fredericksburg, TX and brought the hide over to begin the fleshing and tanning process.  Angela is interested in Upper Paleolithic and Paleoindian archaeology focused on the peopling of Beringia and the Americas, specifically patterns of human dispersals, hunter-gatherer ecology, and human behavioral adaptation.

What's really cool is that she brought along a ton of raw chert local to the area where the deer was taken. This locally available raw material is commonly known as root beer chert and is a minor lithologic constituent of the larger Fredericksburg limestone, dolomite, marl, and chert group. High quality nodules from this group knap very well and offer a more durable alternative to obsidian.

Axis deer hide ready for work
Fredericksburg root beer chert nodules

 We decided to perform the task with local raw materials to see what it would have been like to process a deer hide as a Central Texas forager.  The abundant raw materials allowed us to use expedient flakes taken from a core to flesh the hide.  Informal tools are made when minor design constraints are present such that little to no reshaping of a flake is necessary to complete a task.  In an instance of raw material scarcity, our technological choice may have become centered around a more formalized flake core to preserve our stone.  In this case I created blade-like flakes (more than twice as long as wide) from a single-platform core and produced more as initial flakes became dull through use.

Flake core with parallel removal scars and partially fleshed hide

When lithic specialists think of hide processing we sometimes focus too much on formalized scrapers.  Formal scrapers are the most iconic implement, yet are only one member of a much larger tool kit.  Interestingly enough, for our task, sharp flakes comprised the entire usable assemblage for the initial stage of fleshing.  The scrapers that we tested did laughably little to separate the tough membrane from the hide.  Formal scrapers will play a dominant role in the next stage of scraping the residual tissue once the hide is salted and soaked.  Salting the hide removes fats and oils that decompose and lead to hair loss on the pelt.  In this way each step includes a dominant tool assemblage that plays a key role in the multistage process.  Overlap in tool morphology no doubt exists as trimming with sharp flakes will accompany the formal scraper use later.  As far as site formation process goes, the initial fleshing leads to the production and eventual discard of several large, sharp flakes while the ensuing hide scraping produces small retouch flakes as scrapers are resharpened.

Angela uses a sharp flake to cut flesh from the hide

Visible use wear on the fleshing flakes took the form of a dull continuous polish along the cutting margin with minor flakes removed to dull sharp areas that came in contact with hands.

This sharp curved flakes worked very well.  You can see residue along the working portion of the flake

All in all a very fun experience that reminded us both of the compound nature of tool production, use and discard during a single hide processing event.  Additionally the task helped to reinforce the usefulness of expedient flake tools and the importance of tailoring production techniques to raw material availability.

Happy Hunting!         

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