Washington State Magazine

Washington State Magazine :: Spring 2014

Spring 2014

Points of views

In This Issue...


Mountains and Rivers and Prairies Without End—Recollecting Washington’s landscapes :: “The whole concept has burgeoned ... to one where the landscape is part of why people select to live in certain locations, has political meaning, has religious meaning, has all of these other kinds of meaning.” by Tim Steury

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Trips: Washington road trips from Tim Steury and Kathleen Flenniken}

A True Story Fraught with Peril :: Buried in hundreds of layers of rock are tales of fire, brimstone, destruction, and fragility. by Eric Sorensen

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Trips: Flood Basalts and Glacier Floods: Roadside Geology of Parts of Walla Walla, Franklin, and Columbia Counties, Washington }

A Dose of Reason—Pediatric specialists advocate for vaccines :: In 2011, Washington’s vaccination rate was dangerously low. According to the CDC, 6.2 percent of children in kindergarten had not been fully immunized. by Hannelore Sudermann

An inquiring mind :: Ken Alexander ’82, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital.


On the Road :: Washington’s Poet Laureate brings poetry to, and discovers it in, each of the state’s 39 counties. by Kathleen Flenniken ’83


:: Backyard boarders

:: Google ranking molecules

:: Music to a closed country

:: The calculus of caring and cooperation

:: Sorting debitage from rubble

:: A wider canvas

:: Predictive software helps communication

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: WSU chemist applies Google software to webs of the molecular world }


:: First Words

:: Posts

:: Sports: After the games

:: In Season: What about buckwheat?

:: Last Words: Everyone could use a lift

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Recipe: Sonoko Sakai’s Nihachi Soba Noodles }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Campus shortcuts }


:: Robert Franklin ’75, ’76, ’79—A new leash on life

:: Pavlo Rudenko ’09—As fast as he can go

:: Nancy Gillett ’78—The business of science

:: Alumni news: Two alumni recognized for their contributions to food and agriculture

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Guide: A Guide to TriboTeX Nano-based Lubricant }

New Media

Soldiers of Paint by Doug Gritzmacher ’98 and Michael DeChant Jr.

Civility and Democracy in America: A Reasonable Understanding edited by Cornell W. Clayton and Richard Elgar

A Yankee on Puget Sound by Karen L. Johnson ’78 and Dennis M. Larsen ’68

New & Noteworthy: Operation Cody: An Undercover Investigation of Illegal Wildlife Trafficking in Washington State by Todd A. Vandivert ’79; Isaiah Shembe’s Prophetic Uhlanga by Joel E. Tishken; The Business of Android Apps Development/Taking Your Kindle Fire to the Max/LEGO Technic Robotics/Practical LEGO Technics by Mark Rollins ’94

On the cover: “Washington Road Trips” by John S. Dykes

There is no question about the human origin of these Clovis points from the Richey-Roberts Clovis Cache near East Wenatchee. <em>Courtesy Mike Gramly/Washington State Historical Society</em>


There is no question about the human origin of these Clovis points from the Richey-Roberts Clovis Cache near East Wenatchee. Courtesy Mike Gramly/Washington State Historical Society

Sorting debitage from rubble

by | © Washington State University

Up until fairly recently, archaeology of the western hemisphere stopped at about 13,000 years ago. Since the discovery of the beautiful and finely worked Clovis points in 1929, and subsequent discoveries of Clovis technology across the United States, archaeologists generally adopted the “Clovis First” belief, that whoever created these tools must have been the first humans to populate North America.

Over the last few decades, however, a series of dramatic discoveries have pushed the estimated arrival by humans in the Western Hemisphere further and further into the past. Dates that were once considered only on the fringes of academic archaeology are now being discussed seriously within the mainstream.

The further back our archaeological reach, however, the more difficult it can become to identify human-made artifacts.

“We have a huge number of sites...that only have these other kinds of artifacts,” says archaeologist Bill Andrefsky, “dated to 20,000, 30,000, with Calico, 150,000 years.”

Calico Early Man Site, located in the Mojave Desert, has generated claims of extreme antiquity. Current consensus is more cautious.

Andrefsky, an expert in lithic (stone tool) analysis, has developed a series of controlled tests for differentiating between human-created artifacts and similar objects. His recommendations were recently published in the proceedings of the “Paleoamerican Odyssey” archaeological conference last fall.

His protocol, he says “comes up with results that say these characteristics are uniquely human, these characteristics are uniquely non-human, or these characteristics are both human and non-human.” More important, his research isolates the environmental contexts and conditions that influence production of human and non-human made specimens.

There is no question regarding the human origins of the beautifully crafted Clovis tools and those of later cultures. But much of the analysis of a human-occupied archaeological site depends on the byproduct of tool production, the stone chips and failed attempts that collected around a tool-making place, referred to as “debitage.”

The favorite material for stone tool craftsmen is brittle, hard rock such as chert (or flint) and obsidian. Such rocks can be cracked to create extremely sharp edges for cutting, scraping, and other uses. However, the properties that make them suitable for tool-making also make them susceptible to natural fracture, through erosion, frost-cracking, and animal trampling.

“When we started out in stone tool analysis 30 years ago,” says Andrefsky, “the books all said if it had a bulb of force...or ripple scars on the flake, it’s a human-made artifact.

“Well, if you drop a piece of obsidian down the hill, it’s going to fracture with the ... ripple marks and all that.”

Through an extensive series of experi-ments that included such procedures as dropping bags of obsidian from a height and trampling over chert laid over a variety of underlying soils, and comparing these to artifacts excavated from ancient sites, Andrefsky was able to distinguish fracture and wear traits caused by human and non-human forces.

Based on his experiments, Andrefsky developed a series of guidelines, based on context and morphology, for distinguishing between human-made and non-human-made objects.

Although archaeological analysis is never easy, the steadily expanding scope of investigation in the western hemisphere will continue to demand more precise analytical techniques such as Andrefsky’s.

“When I started out in this business 40 years ago, I thought everything was done, with nothing left to discover,” says Andrefsky, half joking.

Categories: Archaeology | Tags: Stone tools, Debitage, Clovis people

Comments are temporarily unavailable while we perform some maintenance to reduce spam messages. If you have comments about this article, please send them to us by email: wsm@wsu.edu