Editorial - Stone Tools in Analytical and Cultural Perspective

Mark Edmonds and Vin Davis

Cite this as: Edmonds, M. and Davis, V. 2009 Editorial - Stone Tools in Analytical and Cultural Perspective, Internet Archaeology 26.

The articles collected together here are the written record of presentations given at a conference on stone tool studies held in Britain at the Department of Archaeology, University of York, in the autumn of 2007. Convened by the Implement Petrology Group, the purpose of the conference was to encourage those working in a wide range of contexts to come together to discuss current approaches in lithic research. It seemed like a good idea; after all, stone tools are one of the most durable forms of evidence that we have for the study of the prehistoric past, and the conference created a chance to explore the various ways that this near ubiquitous material is currently approached, analysed and interpreted around the world.

Figure 1: Discussion and debate in the undercroft at King's Manor. Figure 2: Alongside the main conference presentations, delegates took full advantage of facilities for reading electronic and paper posters in the Department of Archaeology. Figure 3: Films and practical sessions provided a welcome chance for more direct engagements with materials.

When we first advertised the event, we had in mind something relatively small and focussed, perhaps a day of speakers if we were lucky and a useful but probably limited geographic coverage. In the event, we were almost overwhelmed by the response, with offers of over seventy presentations coming in from no less than five continents. In the end, the only way we could make the meeting work was to extend it over several days; three devoted to lectures, workshops and films and two more to field trips (one to the flint mines at Grimes Graves and a second to the stone axe quarries in the Langdale Fells of Cumbria).

We were also delighted by the range of contributions we received, which reflected a genuine diversity in approaches, with presentations on petrology and geochemistry, on ethnoarchaeology, usewear, technological and contextual studies and explorations of the symbolism and social dimensions of stone. In a discipline renowned for drawing unhelpful oppositions: between theory and practice, or between empirical analysis and interpretation, we take this diversity as a sign of vigour. The range of presented papers and posters demonstrated very effectively that the best research tends to cross these arbitrary divides; acknowledging that all technologies - including our own - are social phenomena, requiring investigation through a combination of hard analytical and contextual analyses.

Figure 4: A climb to Neolithic stone axe sources in the Cumbrian mountains, helped to put many discussions in context. Figure 5: Tackling the problem at source. Figure 6: A discourse on quarries and stone. Figure 7:

In the final analysis, it has not proved possible to create a complete record of the proceedings. Beyond a few photographic images, we have not been able to capture the flow of discussion over coffee and around the dinner table, nor the extended full-day debates that characterised the two field trips. And for various reasons, we have also been unable to gather every single paper or poster that was presented. Some authors were already planning to publish elsewhere, had other commitments, or were unable to contribute because they were trying to meet the challenges set by various national academic assessment schemes. That said, the papers gathered here definitely reflect the range, quality and spirit of discussion and debate that characterised the meeting.

Figure 8: There was also a chance to explore the flint mines at Grimes Graves. Figure 9: And to get down one of the older and less well known shafts. Figure 10:

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who contributed, both directly and indirectly, to make the event so successful. Beyond those who gave papers and posters, we are especially grateful to the Department of Archaeology for hosting the event, to Andrew Morrison at the Yorkshire Museum and all those postgraduates who helped to ensure that proceedings ran so smoothly. Last and by no means least, we would like to thank Judith Winters, the editor of Internet Archaeology, who has played a critically important role in bringing these proceedings together in an electronic format.

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