Lithic reduction involves the use of a hard hammer percussor, such as a hammerstone, a soft hammer fabricator (made of wood, bone or antler), or a wood or antler punch to detach lithic flakes from a lump of tool stone called a lithic core (also known as the "objective piece"). As flakes are detached in sequence, the original mass of stone is reduced; hence the term for this process. Lithic reduction may be performed in order to obtain sharp flakes, on which a variety of tools can be made, or to rough out a blank for later refinement into a projectile point, knife, or other object. Flakes of regular size that are at least twice as long as they are broad are called blades. Lithic tools produced this way may be bifacial (exhibiting flaking on both sides) or unifacial (exhibiting flaking on one side only).
Cryptocrystalline or amorphous stone such as chert, flint, obsidian, and chalcedony, as well as other fine-grained stone material, such as rhyolite, felsite, and quartzite, were used as a source material for producing stone tools. As these materials lack natural planes of separation, conchoidal fractures occur when they are struck with sufficient force. The propagation of force through the material takes the form of a Hertzian cone that originates from the point of impact and results in the separation of material from the objective piece, usually in the form of a partial cone, commonly known as a lithic flake. This process is predictable, and allows the flintknapper to control and direct the application of force so as to shape the material being worked.
Removed flakes exhibit features characteristic of conchoidal fracturing, including striking platforms, bulbs of force, and occasionally eraillures (small secondary flakes detached from the flake's bulb of force). Flakes are often quite sharp, with distal edges only a few molecules thick, and can be used directly as tools or modified into other utilitarian implements, such as spokeshaves and scrapers.
It is the use of hard-hammer percussion that most often results in the formation of the typical features of conchoidal fracture on the detached flake, such as the bulb of percussion and compression rings (Cotterell and Kamminga 1987:986)
In most cases, the amount of pressure applied to the objective piece in soft-hammer percussion is not enough for the formation of a typical conchoidal fracture. Rather, soft-hammer flakes are most often produced by what is referred to as a bending fracture, so-called because the flake is quite literally bent or "peeled" from the objective piece. Flakes removed in this manner lack a bulb of percussion, and are distinguished instead by the presence of a small lip where the flake's stiking platform has separated from the objective piece (Andrefsky 2005:18-20; Cotterell and Kamminga 1987:690).
The use of pressure flaking facilitated the early production of sharper and more finely-detailed tools. Pressure flaking also gave toolmakers the ability to create notches where the objective piece could be bound more securely to the shaft of the weapon or tool and increasing the object's utility.
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