Chaîne Opératoire

A photograph of the blue quartz debitage from the Blue Ridge Province that was found at Old Colchester Park and Preserve by Fairfax  County Archaeologists during excavations.

Blue quartz debitage from the Blue Ridge Province found at Old Colchester Park & Preserve
Photographed by Sheila Koons

by Sheila KoonsLab Archaeologist & Lithic Specialist

The process of producing stone tools from lithic raw material is called lithic reduction or “chaîne opératoire” (a very snazzy term borrowed from the French). As the name suggests, a larger piece of rock is flaked or chipped in order to yield another rock form that can be used as a tool. The pieces that come off the parent rock are called debitage and are by far the most common lithic form recovered from the big prehistoric site on Old Colchester Park and Preserve. Debitage can be further separated into shatter or flakes. Flakes typically have a sharp edge and can be used as a tool in their own right. Within our collection from Old Colchester, we have predominantly quartz debitage. However, we do have some interesting exotic lithic debitage, like blue quartz from the Blue Ridge province that is pictured above. Documenting the debitage and their attributes, the exotic raw materials, and the range of stone tools, allows us to deduce what types of reduction techniques were being employed by the prehistoric inhabitants of Old Colchester. From this data, we can interpret the sort of activities that occurred at the site. This sequence is critical for developing a framework for studying the prehistoric occupancy of Old Colchester and is also called the “chaîne opératoire“…More on this tricky “chaîne opératoire” in a few weeks  🙂

Further reading:

Dibble, H. and O. Bar Yosef. 1995. The Definition and Interpretation of Levallois Variability. Prehistory Press, Madison.

Sellet, F. 1993. Chaine Operatoire: The Concept and its Applications. Lithic Technology, Vol. 18, No. 1, p106-112.

And if you have a bit of french,

Leroi-Gourhan, A. 1964. Le Geste et la Parole, Technique et langage. Albin Michel, coll. Sciences d’Aujourd’hui, Paris.


About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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3 Responses to Chaîne Opératoire

  1. Michael Burmeister says:

    huh? click where? link broken what password? /s/ Mike

    On Wed, Jun 11, 2014 at 9:23 AM, C.A.R.T. Archaeology wrote:



  2. Pingback: Sweating the Small Stuff | C.A.R.T. Archaeology

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