Friday, April 22, 2011

Thoughts on "G"

It’s been a topsy-turvy week here at TWIPA, and if any of our readers are in the Harrisburg area they know what we’re talking about. After an abbreviated Monday, a cancelled Tuesday, a late start and an early dismissal on Wednesday (all due to the city’s water woes), we’re anxious to get back in the saddle and return to a schedule that bares some semblance of structure and order, that, after a few days off, we find ourselves oddly in need of. So as we continue our alphabetical journey through all that is archaeological, we arrive this week at the letter “G”.

Rather than “G” being for,”Gee, I wonder if the Capitol Complex will be open tomorrow.” it can instead represent ground stone objects. A number of this type of artifact have been featured in previous posts such as; grooved and multi-grooved stones, a cache of celts from the City Island site, adzes used to construct a replica dugout canoe, and chunky stones or discoidal artifacts. All of these posts include excellent examples of ground stone artifacts, and have been linked here for your convenience for you to peruse at your leisure. While not an exhaustive list, it does go far in illustrating the wide range of artifacts typically referred to as ground stone.

ground stone tools: hafted adzes left and right, grooved and hafted axe in center

The essential difference between ground stone tools and their counterpart (chipped stone tools) is in their style of manufacture. Ground stone tools are shaped by pecking, grinding, and finally, polishing the surface to achieve the desired form. This method is in stark contrast to chipped stone tools, which are, as the name suggests, chipped, or flaked, into shape through concoidal fracturing.

To muddy the waters a bit, there are some artifacts that display characteristics of both methods, for example a chipped stone projectile point with a smooth base from basal grinding, or an unfinished axe blade exhibiting large flakes removed during initial rough shaping prior to the intensive process of pecking and grinding. In these examples, it can be comfortably argued that the majority of the labor expended in each technique to produce the finished tool, would place the projectile point in the chipped stone category, and the axe as a ground stone object.

We’d be remiss however if we did not note that the letter “G” and archaeology have much more in common than just gorgets and grinding stones. Emphasizing that archaeology is an ever increasingly multidisciplinary endeavor, ”G” can also stand for; geography, geology, geomorphology, genetics, global positioning systems (GPS), geographic information systems (GIS), and ground penetrating radar (GPR). These fields of study and survey techniques (and many others that don’t happen to begin with the letter G) can all play an important role in enhancing our understanding and interpretation of archaeological sites in the 21st century.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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