Lithics and Lithic Analysis

Laussel Venus, Upper Paleolithic Bas-Relief, ca. 25,000 Years Old
Apic / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Definition: Archaeologists use the (slightly ungrammatical) term 'lithics' to refer to artifacts made of stone. Since organic materials such as bone and textiles are rarely preserved, the most common type of artifact found on a prehistoric archaeological site is worked stone, whether as prepared tools such as a handaxe, adze or projectile point, hammerstone, or the tiny flakes of stone called debitage, which resulted from the construction of those tools.

Lithic analysis is the study of those objects, and can entail things like determining where the stone was quarried (called sourcing), when the stone was worked (such as obsidian hydration), what kind of technology was used to make the stone tool (flint knapping and heat-treatment), and what evidence there is of the tool's use usewear or residue studies).


  • We whole-heartedly recommend the Stone Age Research Collection pages of Roger Grace, for those who want to delve deeper.
  • Andrefsky, Jr., William 2007 The application and misapplication of mass analysis in lithic debitage studies. Journal of Archaeological Science 34:392-402.
  • Andrefsky Jr., William 1994 Raw-material availability and the organization of technology. American Antiquity 59(1):21-34.
  • Borradaile, G. J., et al. 1993 Magnetic and optical methods for detecting the heat treatment of chert. Journal of Archaeological Science 20:57-66.
  • Cowan, Frank L. 1999 Making sense of flake scatters: Lithic technological strategies and mobility. American Antiquity 64(4):593-607.
  • Crabtree, Donald E. 1972. An Introduction to Flintworking. Occasional Papers of the Idaho State University Museum, No. 28. Pocatello, Idaho, Idaho State University Museum.
  • Gero, Joan M. 1991 Genderlithics: Women's roles in stone tool production. In Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory. Joan M. Gero and Margaret W. Conkey, eds. Pp. 163-193. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
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Hirst, K. Kris. "Lithics and Lithic Analysis." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hirst, K. Kris. (2020, August 26). Lithics and Lithic Analysis. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Lithics and Lithic Analysis." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).