Accidental heating of chert and flint causes significant damage to the structure of the material, causing potlid fractures and crazing, whereas controlled heating can actually improve the quality of coarse materials.

Heated lithic materials, including chert and flint, can show distinctive traces of heating

Experimental investigation of heat damage characteristics for interpreting lithic artefacts

Dr Linda Hurcombe and Rachael Durbin

In a project funded by the British Academy, Dr Hurcombe and Rachael Durbin are investigating the heat damage characteristics of flint artefacts.

In recent years there has been increased interest in the deliberate acts of destruction and deposition of material goods, including ceramics, metalwork and flint. This project concentrates on flint artefacts.

Despite noting that a number of flint artefacts from a variety of sites have been heat damaged, few archaeologists question why or how this took place. This project aims to explore, through experimentation, the effects on flint of different kinds of heat contact. The analysis of results should allow the establishment of links with particular activities of manufacture, use and especially discard practices.

Experiments will include manufacture, use, discard and post-deposition processes such as: thermal pre-treatment, hafting of tools using hot resin/mastic, potboilers for cooking, arrowheads cooked within a carcass, flint artefacts 'fired' within a bonfire and flint included on ground to be stubble burnt. The resulting flint will be compared to examples from archaeological contexts in order to allow some explanation of features seen from excavated materials.