Quartzite in Prehistory


These are two Quartzite leaf points from Maroc (timeframe: MSA or Neolithic).

Quartzite is a metamorphic rock composed primarily of quartz and may include significant amounts of other minerals. The parent rock for quartzite is quartz-rich sandstone. As sandstone becomes deeply buried, rising temperature will fuse the quartz grains together forming the extremely hard and weather-resistant, compact, fine grained homogeneous rock of metamorphic nature.
The purest forms of quartzite appear similar to quartz but with fractures throughout. Less pure forms may be colored and the least pure forms may even be heterogeneous with different minerals embedded in the quartz matrix. When struck, quartzite fractures conchoidally, similar to flint, but these fractures may be interrupted by the fractures initially present in the rock. Consequently, while it is possible to make stone tools from quartzite, it is somewhat harder to work than either flint or chert.

Quartzite pays an important role in the African ESA and the Acheulean of the Indian subcontinent. In Europe, Acheulean sites with Quartzite bifaces are rare against those with flint (Garonne,the Aisne region, Northern Hessen). The same holds true for European Middle Paleolithic, while Quartzite is an important raw material in teh MSA of S-Africa and in the Aterian. While almost every implement that can be made of chert can also be made of Quartzite, it remains unclear why our ancestors sometime preferred one type of raw material over others.

Experimental archaeologists have also shown that it is possible to produce the same tools in Quartzite as in flint, but the Quartzite has to be of good quality, fresh and unpatinated. The quality of stones found on the surface will normally not be good enough. This means that some degree of quarrying for quartzite, even during the lower Paleolithic must have been organized.

Studies of hunter-gatherer activity at lithic raw material sources, especially on quartzite are rare and largely descriptive, in part because archaeologists have viewed hunter-gatherer lithic procurement as a casual and low-cost activity fieldwork. This opinion may be certainly biased.  We should reevaluate outcrops of quartzite (e.g.  North Hessian sites like the Reutersruh and others) as quarry sites . It seems that prehistoric men at the Reutersruh site quarried stone intensively, although they did not often transport this stone any great distance.

In one experiment reported by Farina Sternke (Dublin) the abilities of quartzite from two different places in Central Germany, where quartzite was used in prehistory were evaluated. It is “Paleozoic quartzitic sandstone” from Saxony- Anhalt and “tertiary quartzitic sandstone” from Northern Hessen, used for example at Lenderscheid, Reutersruh, Röhrsheim and Hausen (see for earlier Posts on this blog). In these experiments the Paleozoic quartzite was more difficult to work than the tertiary quartzite because it was harder. On the other hand the quality of the tertiary quartzite varied much, which I can confirm by own experience with the material.

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome!

About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University.

Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.

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