The pitfall of using patination as a chronologic marker

These are two blade cores from Moravany Banka (Late Gravettian at 22 k.a BP) in Slovakia. Both were broken and the fragments which were found in short distance to each other were glued again. While the fragments of  the first core, show similar patination, the patination of the fragments  of the second core, although prepared at the same time, is quite different.

The surfaces of most flint artifacts show changes through a process known as patination. Patina color and thickness is dependent on age but also on the microstructure of flint, its permeability, the kind and distribution of flint impurities and the microenvironment of the soil, where the artifact was embedded.

White patina refers to a thin layer of whitish coloration covering the surface of an artifact. Most authors agree that it is induced by alkaline environments. Rottländer mentioned a pH of >10 as one major prerequisite.

Color patinas, also present in the artifacts shown here, are generally explained as being a deposit of various minerals present in the groundwater. Already patinated surfaces seem to be more prone to this effect, due to their increased porosity. Another explanation could be that metals /pigments like iron are already part of the flint matrix and oxidize at the surface. Alternatively peat may cause a yellowish-brown patina on some artifacts.

Surface findings or series of artifacts from old collections with unclear stratigraphy were often arranged according to the grade of their patination. One prominent example for this method is the wonderful book of F Bordes: “Les limons quaternaires du bassin de la Seine” from 1954. Such arrangements have to be reviewed with very great care and may be extremely misleading. Using this method, a different age would be ascribed to different parts of the second core shown in this post, whose  fragments were certainly contemporaneous but embedded in different microenvironments.

Serie blanche from Tillet, from: “Les limons quaternaires du bassin de la Seine”

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5 Responses to The pitfall of using patination as a chronologic marker

  1. Millan Mozota says:

    And, what would you think of cores that show a differential patination at only some of the negative concavities from flaking? Should this be for sure a “second, later-in-time” re-explotation of the core, or maybe is another plausible explanation?

    What if the same happens within the negatives of the last retouching line, in the retouched edge of a sidescrapper? Again, is that -for sure- a “long-differed” re-sharpening, or is another posible explanation?

  2. Katzman says:

    That’s exactly the dilemma: that in general a similar patination does not exclude a different age and that a different patination does not exclude contemporary flaking.

  3. Millán Mozota says:

    Thank you for your answer. I’m really interested in that issue. Could you point some bibliography about the dilemma? (in english or french pls)

  4. Katzman says:


    Burroni D., Donahue R.E., Pollard A.Mark, Mussi M. The surface alteration features of flint artefacts as a record of environmental processes (2002) Journal of Archaeological Science, 29 (11), pp. 1277-1287.

  5. Patrice says:

    I have a very weird reason for visiting this site. I was attempting to learn more about the Iberomaurusian industry because I just found out that I am a direct descendant of these people and yes, it feels quite surreal to be linked to a specific group of stone age people!

    My maternal lineage mtdna is U6a1. Reading these comments, I’m struggling with a language I barely understand so I am not sure if the link to this recent paper describing some genetic data that refers to the Iberomaurusian industry and their genetic relationship to other developing cultures is helpful to your specific research but it seemed (to this total neophyte) it could be something you might want a heads up about.

    Here are a couple of sentences:
    “The Bayesian Skyline Plots testify to non-overlapping phases of expansion, and the haplogroups’ phylogenies suggest that there are U6 sub-clades that expanded earlier than those in M1. Some M1 and U6 sub-clades could be linked with certain events. For example, U6a1 and M1b, with their coalescent ages of ~20,000-22,000 years ago and earliest inferred expansion in northwest Africa, could coincide with the flourishing of the Iberomaurusian industry, whilst U6b and M1b1 appeared at the time of the Capsian culture. ” Link to the abstract is:

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