Stone Dead employs a biographical approach, enabling an interpretation of raw material sources, the uses to which tools have been put, the treatments they have undergone in use-life, as well as final deposition/discard. A novel integrated/portable methodology, including geology, lithic technology, morphometrics, digital imaging, refitting, microwear and experimental archaeology means artefacts can be studied in their place of storage.

Site archives

Working with collaborating museums/institutions in Riga, Petrozavodsk and St Petersburg where the grave assemblages and archives are stored we are producing artefact inventories for each burial context, including information on geology and technology, using photography and photogrammetry to document the tools.

Human Biographies

We are compiling information on human biographies (including individuals without grave goods) by using records of the skeletal remains from each burial context; osteological and archaeothanatological studies. This is helping establish spatial relationships between skeletal remains and artefacts, burial position, body treatment etc. Published bioarchaeology (e.g. aDNA, stable isotopes, radiocarbon dating) is extending human biographical information and will serve to identify individuals with unusual diets, ancestry and pathologies which can then be related to the artefacts that accompanied them in the grave.

Geological characterisation

We are comparing data on the probable geological source of the Zvejnieki and YOO grave tools and their geological properties (texture, grain size, inclusions, colour) with information on contemporary tools from non-funerary contexts.

A pile of unworked flint nodules with white cortices.

Reconstructing grave tool chaîne opératoires

We are recording stone tool technological information (e.g. faceting), morphology, typology, reduction sequence, secondary working (if present), metrics and the material's condition (e.g. water-rolled, patinated etc.), as well as any refits.

Functional analyses of grave stone assemblages

Hands strike the edge of a flint core with a stone hammer during a working process.
A woman in a red top looks into a microscope at a worked stone tool.

The central methodology to be applied in the Stone Dead Project is microwear analysis. Microwear can provide critical scientific information about the function of a tool, and other non-utilitarian qualities vested in the ‘special treatment’ of particular objects. Methodologically, it is a technique which detects microscopic wear traces on tools that can yield important information about prior use and treatment. Traces include edge removals, edge rounding, polish and striations, which vary according to contact material and motion executed. By studying different types of tools, made of varied raw materials, we can reconstruct toolkits for different tasks.

Microwear analysts rely on experimental reference collections to compare traces with those seen on archaeological tools; thus experiments form a critical element of microwear studies. We will use the PalaeoHub Microwear Laboratory Microwear reference Collection, as well as carrying out new experiments at the YEAR Centre designed to replicate and verify the archaeological wear traces visible on the grave tools.

An image from a microscope showing wear patterns at a c.10 microns scale.

Tracking variation synchronically and diachronically through time/space

We are using geometric morphometrics (GMM) of blades as a mechanism for assessing whether the size/form of tools varies dependent on different burial contexts (e.g., infants vs adults), through time and space, and/or between chronologically contemporary domestic contexts.

Comparison and integration of human and grave good data

Stone Dead will highlight relationships between human bioarchaeological data and different stone tool types and between graves and sites, across space and time using tools for multivariate/spatial statistics and chronological uncertainty available within the R statistical environment.