Stone Tool Glossary - Definitions and Descriptions of Archaelogical Terms

This list is a brief reference guide for the purpose of identifying stone tools and techniques used in many parts of the world.  It was compiled by Jan Summers Duffy Archaeologist and Curator of The Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History. Many terms have several names and uses. The Glossary is also available as a print out.

Adze – tool from a flake used as a woodworking chisel, usually in a handle (hafted); 

Abrader – grooved stone for shaping wood, usually made of a granular type of stone;

Analysis – the process of studying and classifying artifacts;

Archaeological Site – the place where human activity has occurred and remains have been left;

Artifact – any object made or modified by humans;

Assemblage – artifacts found together and used during the same time period;

Atlatl – spear-throwing tool with a cupped shaft, many variations;

Attribute – the characteristic of properties of an object, i.e. weight, size, color;

Awl – pointed spike-like tool used for piercing holes in wood, leather, a/k/a punch;

Axe – chopping tool to split wood,can be flaked, polished, grooved, ½, ¾, or full broad-bit, holed; a/k/a hatchet;

B.P. – a time scale; years before present (calculated from 1950);

Bannerstone – an atlatl weight; put on shaft of spear thrower for balance, double crescent, butterfly styles;

Beads – decoration; dentalium, (tooth shells), circular, rectangular, bone, steel;

Biface – an artifact worked with tools on both sides;

Blade – small parallel sided flake, also called bladelet;

Blank – smaller pieces from larger rock, suitable for carrying to make tools; worked from a sliver;

Bulb – the rounded swelling on the inner face of a flake or blade below point of impact;

Bulbar scar – scar left on bulb of percussion;

Celt – thinned-edge stone axe tool for skinning, cutting,(adze, axe);

Ceramic – pottery or fired clay;

Chert – fine grained silica, good fracturing and cutting edges for stone tools, similar to flint, agate, chalcedony and jasper;

Chipping – detaching of small stone fragments from larger stone;

Classification – system of arrangement in groups or categories;

Context – relationship of artifacts and remains to each other;

Core – lump or nodule from another tool;

Core Tool – core showing trimming or use wear, indicating use as an implement;

Culture -learned beliefs, values and behaviors shared by people;

Cupstone – small stone cup with many indentations, pitted, for cracking nuts, food processing;

Debitage – the leftover remains from stone tool products;

Diagnostic – items of a particular time period or cultural grouping;

Discoidal - circular concave stone (possibly grave ornament);

Dorsal – upper surface or the back;

Drill - pointed lithic, varies in length, t-shaped with slender parallel sides, used to make holes in buckskin or hides; a/k/a reamer, perforator;

Flake – piece of stone detached from core by striking core with another stone;

Feature – material remains that cannot be removed, i.e. hearth, post molds;

Fishing weight- a cobble, chipped on one or both sides to wrap fishing line around, a/k/a net sinker, plummet;

Flesher - beveled edge tool for final dressing of animal skins;

Fluted - a narrow flake removed that becomes a channel starting at the base of projectile point to aid in binding point to spear shaft;

Gorget – thin, flat, smooth lithic of many designs; may have been worn on chest for ornamental, or on left forearm for bow-string;

Graver – incising tool with a thick worked point; a/k/a burin;

Grid – uniformly placed squares dividing a site into units; used to measure and record artifact positions;

Grinding – manual abrasion with sand or other material to create cutting edge and shape a tool; a/ka/ abrading;

Ground edge tool – a tool with a sharp cutting edge at one end;

Hafting – mounting an artifact in a handle of wood, antler;

Hammerstone – stone or river cobble used in making small stone tools or pounding foods.

Hoe – digging tool, stemmed, used in agriculture, a/k/a plow, digging stick;

Hopper Mortar- shallow stone bowl used to process roots, berries, foods;

Knives – edged stone daggers, can be hafted;

Level – excavation layer in natural strata;

Lithic – stone or made of stone;

Lithic Reduction – use of a stone hammer such as hammerstone and a fabricator (wood, antler) to detach flakes from a lump of stone tool;

Mano - grinding stone held in hand for grinding corn, meal;

Maul – heavy long handled, hafted hammerstone, flaked or polished; a/k/a axe, skull crusher;

Metate - indented large flat rock for grinding meal, berries, corn with a mano;

Microlith – small stone artifact, less than 3 cm max.

Midden – prehistoric refuse and shell heap;

Moccasin-last - a stone form for shaping a pair of deerskin moccasins;

Ochre – earthy red, yellow or brown iron oxide used as pigment for coloring and dying;

Pecking – small nicks or indentations on surface of a rock by indirect percussion;

Pedology – the study of soil;

Pestle – roller, cone, or bell shaped tool for pounding;

Percussion Flaking – fracture by striking stone against another by using a punch, shaping the tool;  indirect-using a tool to strike with hammer;

Plummet – fishing weight, a/k/a/ sinkers, net sinker

Pressure Flaking – shaping by pressing off small thin flakes with a bone or wooden tool with edges trimmed;

Pressure flaker - antler tine used for shaping;

Post Mold – feature, circular stain in the ground after wooden post has decayed-usually existence of a house;

Projectile Point – small stone point, trimmed on or both surfaces used mostly as a spear tip;

Potshard/sherd – piece of broken pottery;

Provenance – place and date where an object originated;

Proximal end – end of a flake with a striking platform;

Punch – tool for inserting holes;

Re-touch – intentional flaking or trimming of stone artifact after detachment from a core (to sharpen or shape);

Re-sharpening – detaching flakes on a used edge to make sharper;

Rock Art – term for pecked, incised or painted art on rock;

Scraper – stone tool made from a flake with one or more thin working edges, used for working hides, wood; i.e., side, end, thumbnail, humpback;

Shaft Straightener – long straight grooved stone used to smooth and shape an arrow shaft;

Sickle – crescent shaped artifact;

Spade – digging hand tool, can be flared;

Stockton Curve – rare artifact of black obsidian, serrated, scarifies flesh; a scalping knife; mostly found in Ca.;

Stone Balls – naturally formed balls of stone, by glacial or volcanic actions; uses vary;

Striations – scratches on an artifact from use;

Stratigraphy – layers of deposits in archaeological sites;

Striking platform – the area on a stone core on which the blow is struck to detach a flake.

Stunner – large, dull, blunt projectile to stun or cripple an animal without penetrating the body;

Tang Knife – tool used to remove flesh, back, corner and base tang, rare;

Test Pit – small excavation unit to learn depth and character of stratum;

Thinning stage – middle stage of developing a stone tool; between shaping and finishing;

Tool Kit – set of artifacts fashioned by ancient people for particular uses;

Uniface – tool made by striking on one side only;

Utilized flake – flake without modification, showing wear;

Ventral surface – lower surface, the area that is newly created showing bulb of percussion, ripple marks.