The IPHES and other international teams sum efforts to know better the use and functions of the prehistoric tools

Researchers from Paris have been in Tarragona to move forward in the study of the microscopic use wear of the stone tools.

The discipline in charge is Traceology, and it will have a specific section within the international congress UISPP done in Burgos during September.


An international team made ​​up of scientists from Paris and IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution) have joined efforts to become more competent in the knowledge of the use of prehistoric tools. In this context, Marie- Hélène Moncely and Antony Borel (researchers of the Prehistory Departement at– Muséum National d’ Histoire Naturelle ), Sabine Martin (grant holder at the University of Exeter, UK), Antonella Pedergnana (grant holder at IPHES) and Andreu Ollé (researcher in the IPHES and associate professor at the URV -Universitat Rovira i Virgili) recently held a working meeting in Tarragona.

As part of this meeting in IPHES, the researchers have presented one of their investigation lines, “The quartz and quartzite tools from Payre: technology and use – wear analysis on the technology and functionality of the tools (Traceology) in quartz and quartzite of the French site of Payre “The problematic was presented, such as the work done and the two thesis that have been launched this year with two new predoctoral achieved in 2014: A research training -FI– of the Generalitat of Catalunya, for Antonella Pedergnana, and one from the University of Exeter, to Sabine Martin, points Andreu Ollé. Both researchers have formed as students in the mobility of theErasmus Mundus in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution in the URV.

The complementary nature of the devices

The same researcher noted: “In addition, all together in IPHES, were watching how the different microscopes available can be used, such as the optical microscopes of our institute and the electronic ones of the Microscopy Service of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, hopefully those joining in the near future in our scientific network (such as Confocal Laser Microscope, digital microscopes, etc), in the specific subject of study of quartz and quartzite.

In the working sessions also participated Juan Luis Fernández Marchena, who last year defended a DEA (Diploma of Advanced Studies ) in the field of Traceology, but in an another type of quartz and crystal rock. Who a few days ago also made a presentation on the IPHES entitled “Functional Analysis of Crystal Rock Artifacts in theEiros Cave: Experimental Approach Traceology and use waste”.

Research Summary

All these initiatives are included in the microscopic use-wear research analysis of prehistoric stone tools, which is inside the unit of lithic technology of the IPHES. The discipline that deals with this type of study is the Traceology, which aims the study of the stone tools. “It is based on microscopic analysis of these artefacts and the description of the marks (polished, impacts, stretch marks … ) that remain on the surface as a result of their use”, says Andreu Ollé.

“The principle that applies is: every action performed and each work leaves features or marks that to be recognized needs essentially two things. They need to be experimentally reproduced and characterized with the help of meticulous microscopic observation, so far has basically included the use of conventional optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy”, adds the same investigator.


Traceology data is used to identify if an archaeological artefact is really an instruments, how they were used and what specific activities are represented (butchery, abandoned skins, wood work… ) is conducted at the sites studied in the IPHES, such as Atapuerca , Abric Romani, the Boella or Cativera.

“Our interest in the application of Traceology, the different techniques in the microscopic observation and the collaboration between different specialists has led in to the organization of a specific session in the next international congress of the International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences (UISPP), which be held next September in Burgos”, Andreu Ollé stated. This session is entitled “Recent Trends and Aspects of Use-wear Analysis and their contribution to the Modernization of Archaeology ” and is coordinated by the same investigator, along with Juan José Ibáñez (CSIC), Adrian E. Evans (Univ. Bradford ) and Laura Longo (Musei Civici Fiorentini).


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