Lithic Tools & Flintknapping

Six different Native American tribes inhabited the Antelope Valley in the past; the Kitanemuk, Kawaiisu, Serrano, Tataviam, Vanyume, and the Chemehuevi. Little is known about these groups aside from personal accounts of individuals and the few instances of ethnographic and linguistic research done in the early 1900s, as well as the contributions made by archaeologists who have studied the material remains left behind by these cultures.

One of the most common material remains left behind and studied by archaeologists in the area is stone tools – referred to by archaeologists as "lithic technology". Specific types of stone (such as rhyolite, chalcedony, jasper, chert, and obsidian) are ideal raw materials for such tool production. The common characteristic of these stones is their non-crystalline or smooth texture, which allows for a feature called “conchoidal fracturing”. Conchoidal fractures are described as smooth, curved breaks from the base of the stone. This breakage pattern allows the person forming the stone, also called the "flintknapper", to precisely control the reduction to make a wide variety of tools.

The flint-knapping process involves striking a core of the selected raw material with a hammerstone to drive off a flake. The sharp flake that was just extracted can then be used as-is or can be modified further into a more specialized tool such as a biface or a projectile point.

Lithic tools such as projectile points are often temporally and spatially diagnostic, meaning that they hold information regarding when and where the artifact was made. In this sense, they can be used to create a timeline of sorts. In this region of California, several arrowhead types are most prominent, including Lake Mojave Points, Pinto Points, Elko Points, Rose Springs Points, Cottonwood Triangular Points, and Desert Side-Notched Points.

The artifact of focus today is not considered a projectile point, but a biface. Bifaces are another common type of lithic technology that are usually too large to be used as a projectile point. These tools were used as a prehistoric multi-tool and can function as a knife, a scraper, a pick, a chopper, or a weapon, among other things. Small bifaces can even be fixed to a shaft and used as a spearhead. They are called “biface” because they are knapped bilaterally; this means that they were intentionally shaped on both faces of the stone.

This particular biface is made from a stone called rhyolite. Rhyolite is highly abundant in various places in the western end of the Antelope Valley, and was likely sourced from and used nearby one of these locations.

Photo courtesy of MOAH Collections

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