Amara West project blog


Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2017: local/non-local flint tools

Nora Shalaby, Freie Universität Berlin

Nora photographing flint assemblages

Nora photographing flint assemblages

Among the thousands of finds being studied at Amara West this season, I have been looking at hundreds of flint implements that were excavated from the site. Unsurprisingly, the majority of pieces come from within the settlement, with only three implements having been found in the cemetery.

The preliminary documentation and study of the almost 350 pieces has already uncovered some aspects about the lithic industry at Amara West. There appears to be the use of both local and non-local material for the manufacture of tools.

The local material consists of small pebbles that would have been easily accessible and readily available in the vicinity. They vary in color, are marked by dull cortexes and are usually of poorer quality material. The tools produced from these local pebbles would have been relatively small in size, the pebbles themselves having little flexibility to produce a wide range of tools.

Flint tools made from local material

The non-local material is characterized by nodules that would have been much larger in size, producing flakes and blades of much larger dimensions. They are mostly beige to greyish-beige in color, sometimes still retaining their chalky white cortex, which suggests that they were quarried rather than simply picked up. There are others which are a dark chocolate brown, but are fewer in number. The presence of large unworked flakes and blades from this material within the assemblage is a good indication that the tools were being worked on site, although there is as of yet little evidence of production waste, or a possible workshop where they were being produced – perhaps in areas yet to be excavated?

Flint tools made from non-local material

An interesting question to ask is whether the settlement was being supplied from outside with these quarried nodules, or perhaps prepared blanks, for tool production, or whether the residents/knappers were quarrying the flint themselves? It still remains to be seen whether there are any flint raw material sources close to the site.

In terms of the types of tools that were being produced, the majority are segmented blades/sickle blades, made with both the local and non-local material. In many cases, the characteristic sheen – that develops along the edge of the blade when cutting through plant fibres – is present. The technology of production is the same on all pieces – truncated short ends, and retouch along the lateral edges, but with little standardisation in shape. Those made on local pebbles are of course much smaller in size. Apart from sickle blades, there are a number of ad hoc and informal tool types such as notches and a few end-scrapers, but they are much fewer in number. It is clear that the real use of flint at the settlement was for the production of sickle blades needed in agriculture. Use-wear analysis on the edges of the blades with sheen can help clarify the different types of material they were being used on and so confirm their exact function.

Further on, it will be interesting to examine the spatial distribution of the tools and debitage within the settlement and determine whether specific patterns arise, integrating flint artefacts found in Egypt Exploration Society excavations at the site in the 1930s and 1940s. Did some areas have access to the non-local material, while others depended on local pebbles for production, or was there an equal distribution?

Hopefully some of these questions can be answered by the end of the season!

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest

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Filed under: Amara West 2017, archaeology, objects, settlement, tools

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