A short Journey through Pressure Flaking


solutrean11-fourneauFaçonnage is a knapping operation finalized to obtain only one stone tool by shaping a raw material block or the product (flake, blade, bladelet) of an earlier operational sequence according the wanted shape. Pressure flaking on artifacts was invented several times during the last 75000 years by the convergence of technical solutions.

Replication experiments show that pressure flaking after heat treatment best explains the morphology of lithic artifacts recovered from the ca. 75 k.a. MSA levels assigned to the Stillbay technocomplex at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Application of this technique allowed for a high degree of control during the detachment of individual flakes, resulting in thinner, narrower, and sharper tips on bifacial points. This technique disappeared during the later MSA of S/E-Africa. 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.

During the LMG (ca. 20 k.a. cal. BP) in S/W-Europe, the percussion flaking technique was widely used during the Solutrean, which is characterized by several forms of thin, leaf shaped points, shaped by distinctive flat, highly invasive unifacial and bifacial retouch. Heat treatment and pressure flaking were omnipresent in shaping these wonderful artifacts. One example is displayed in Fig. 1:  a Solutrean shouldered point from Fourneau-du-Diable / Dordogne.

denticulated point dovetailThe Paleolithic Clovis points of America was characterized by thin, fluted projectile points created using bifacial percussion flaking. To finish shaping and sharpening the points they are sometimes pressure flaked along the outer edges. Clovis-associated dates ranging from 11,3 to 10,7 k.a B,P which correspond to a short period from about 13,2 to 12,8 k.a. cal BP. Figure 2 showes a serrated Dove Tail Point from the Early Archaic exhibiting the continous use of pressure flaking and lateral pressure notching  dating to the early Holocene.

In the old world, pressure flaking, and a new core technique, bipolar/naviform, developed into highly sophisticated and specialized techniques in the eastern Mediterranean. The naviform/ bipolar technique became the diagnostic marker (“fossil directeur”) of the PPNB period in the Levant /(8,2-6,2 cal. B.C).

katzman pressure EPPNBIt spread as part of the cultural/techno-PPNB complex to other parts of the eastern Mediterranean Basin, as a result of colonization (Paraklessia Shillourokambos, Kissonerga Mylouthkia, Kalavasos Tenta, Cyprus) or “acculturation” (Çayönü, southeastern Anatolia). This technique was probably in the hands of groups with specialized knowledge, and it was always applied on good-quality flint.  Figure 3 and 4 show fine parallel retouch elaborately applied on the ventral face of a brocken tool.

Pressure flaking played a great role during the late Scandinavian Neolithic.  The famous Type Ic daggers, for example are characterized by elegant, well controlled parallel pressure-flaking on ppnb aggsbachtheir broad faces, and can sometimes exceed 45 cm in length. Another example of a very advanced pressure technique are the high valued ripple flaked knives of the late Predynastic of Egypt.

During the Fayum A-Neolithic bifacial projectile points, shaped by pressure flaking were common. In the beginning of the operational sequence rough outs must be planned symmetrical. This creates a special challenge for this shape, as the delicate fayum a katzmantangs must remain in the same plane and have the same length and width, as the deep central hollow is created. The body of the arrowhead is covered with minute retouches where the flint has been carefully taken off by pressure flaking. The creation of such an implement represents a time-consuming choice, rather than a necessity. The shape certainly reflects a culturally important message. Thus, it may be possible to argue that functional benefits (impact fracture) were entwined with prestige factors (time and material quality) and perhaps aesthetic qualities ( M. Mangum 2008; http://www.aggsbach.de/2013/01/hollow-based-projectile-point-from-the-fayum-a-neolithic/).

dagger1Of all the varieties of stone tools found in northern Europe, few have held the attention of Prehistorians like the bifacial flint daggers of southern Scandinavia. Large finely made daggers of flint appeared suddenly in northern Europe by 2350 BC, similar in scale and outline to contemporaneous metal daggers imported from Central and Eastern Europe. The most appealing of these daggers is the type Ic flint dagger exhibiting edge-to-edge parallel pressure flaking. The precision pressure-flaked patterns displayed by type Ic flint daggers have no obvious technological purpose in terms of actually using a dagger for a cutting activity. It is far more likely that the value of the remarkable workmanship displayed by these daggers was ascribed to their role as symbols of value, wealth, or both.


Percussion is not only a façonnage- but also a débitage technique that consists in the application of a choc to break the raw material in order to obtain standardized blanks (blades, bladelets). The pressure is realized by an active part of a wood, animal bone or metal tool.

In Northern Asia, the earliest appearance of the pressure technique, used not for retouching tools but for producing blanks of tools, has been associated with the origin and spread of microblade technology. Microblade production is intimately bound with the pressure technique, although microblades can be produced and were produced by very different chaine opératoires, not necessarily including pressure.
Microblade technology was focused on the mass production of standardized tiny blades from characteristic wedge-shaped cores. Such blades were no more than 4 mm wide with unusually sharp edges. They were fixed into grooves along one or both edges of a sharpened bone or antler point. Microblade technology is an extremely efficient use of high-quality stone. It generates the maximum amount of usable edge while minimizing the quantity of stone that must be gathered and carried around.

It is not exactly known, where the idea of producing regular microblades by pressure-flaking came from. Was there only one or multiple origins? Were there only one invention or multiple inventions?  Some researchers trace the beginnings of the microblade technique to southern Siberia, northern China, Mongolia or the Far East at 35 k.a. B.P. But these assemblages are usually not manufactured by  pressure flaking. Maybe we should call this Phenomenon:  microblade technique sensu lato. Others insist that the emergence of the microblade technique sensu strictu occurred later, around 20k.a. B.P. in the Far East and was always connected with pressure debitage and the Yubetsu core type (and later derivate of this core type). The Yubetsu method involves preparing mainly bifacial or boat-shaped core blanks with symmetrical cross sections and forming platforms by removing spalls from the lateral edge of a blank.

The earliest example of microblade technology sensu lato at Tolbor-15 in the Khangai Mountains of northern Mongolia was identified in Horizon 5 (single date 28,5 k.a. BP) , a boat-shaped micro core fashioned on a trihedral blank. All microcores except this one were produced by percussion, and the percentage of microblades in the horizon overall is very low. Horizons 3 and 4 at Tolbor-15, which contains two types of microcores; those produced on thin flakes with retouched bases and a narrow blade-removal surface and a second type made on bifacial preforms, similar to the Yubetsu method with platforms prepared by the sequential removal of ski spalls. The number of microblades in both Horizons 3 and 4 is dramatically increased over earlier strata, while the associated radiocarbon dates clearly indicate the later chronology of these assemblages: 14,-15 k.a. BP. During this time microcores were already reduced by both pressure and percussion.

In the southern Trans Baikal area microblade production is proposed for the site Studenoye 2 and Ust’Menza 2 was dated to 17 k.a. BP.  In Siberia the production of regular microblades and the use of pressure technology were identified on Upper Palaeolithic sites dated after the Last Glacial maximum and already before start of Greenland Interstadial 1.

Both microblade technology and the pressure technique sensu stricto appear in Hokkaido / Japan suddenly around 20 k.a B.P. and without local precedent. It is interesting to note that the appearance of microblade technology and the pressure technique in Hokkaido roughly corresponds to the beginning of the severe cold and dry conditions in the LGM. Since the available mammal resources were sparsely scattered over a large area under such climatic conditions, people may have needed to increase the frequency and magnitude of residential moves. It seems that the changes of residential moves favored lightening of portable tool kits and effective use of raw materials designed to minimize stone transport costs, in the case of when the lithic raw material of the needed quality and morphology was spatially limited.

Alaska and the Yukon Territory represent the easternmost regions of “Beringia”. Beringia was a continuous landmass extending from the Kolyma River in Siberia in the west (western Beringia) to the MacKenzie River in the Yukon Territory of Canada in the east (eastern Beringia) including the areas of what is now the Bering and Chukchi seas (central Beringia), a dry land ‘bridge’ created by lowered sea levels during the late Pleistocene MIS 2 in 28-12 k.a.  cal BP.  This land bridge must have one important route from Asia to the new world.The peopling of the New World  was the result of  various migratory waves, one of which  is represented by microblade sites.

The location and dating of early sites in Alaska supports a migration from Siberia towards southeastern Alaska and British Columbia. The most ancient known human occupation on in Alaska, Swan Point CZ4 (Yukon Territory, ca. 14k.a. cal BP), is the only one in this region to have unearthed a whole microblade toolkit mainly made of Yubetsu cores. This site has clear technological ties with the Dyuktai Complex of northeastern Siberia, dating from >16 to c. 11,5 k.a.

magdalenian aggsbachPressure debitage seems to be rare and isolated in Pleolithic Central and South Europe before the Mesolithic.  An exception is the Magdalenian site of the “Rocher-de-la-Caille” which is located in the high valley of the river Loire, and part of the sites, that were flooded to make way for the Villerest dam.  Pressure debitage was clearly used in the production of certain bladelets preferabily on transluscent blond flint blade blanks imported from the Cher valley. The technique used the arrises of the upper side of laminar blanks diversely retouched in this intention of bladelet production, specially by an inverse truncation to be used as the pressure platform. The same debitage method, but using percussion, was recently identified in the middle Magdalenian from the Roc-au-Sorcier (Angles-surl’Anglin,  Vienne), and in the Magdalenian III of La Marche (Lussac-les-Châteaux, Vienne). The debitage method from the Rocher-de-la-Caille appears as a cultural marker within the middle Magdalenian of the centre of France. Anyhow, its specic technique at the type-side, that is pressure,  seems to have had only limited success at the time. Magdalenian arched cores, were usually made for the production of large blades-for example during the late Magdalenian of the Paris basin, but smaller arched cores are also known, obvoisly for the production of Microblades at several late Magdalenian sites in France and Central Europe (Figure 5)

More about the long-blade industries in Neolithic Europe, produced by pressure debitage, can be found here: http://www.aggsbach.de/2012/09/large-blade-production-during-the-paleolithic-and-neolithic/.

pressureThe Capsian is an Epipaleolithic technocomplex of the Maghreb (Tunisia and Algeria) and begins during the arid younger Dryas. The Capsian is traditionally divided into two horizons, the typical Capsian and the upper Capsian which are sometimes found in chronostratigraphic sequence. Some authors suggest that a time overlap of these entities may also be possible. The typical Capsian is characterized by a significant blade based component like burins (ca. 25%), endscrapers (ca. 20%), and large backed tools). Backed bladelets are present in quantities of about 10-20%. Geometric microliths comprise about 10% of the outillage. The Upper Capsian is characterized by abundant and varied geometric microliths and numerous forms of backed bladelets. Burins are fewer than during the typical Caspian, but there is much regional variability.  Amongst the main distinctions between the Typical and  the Upper  Capsian, the later variant, is the greater abundance  of geometric microliths and the existence of bladelets  produced by pressure flaking performed at mitric cores (Figure 6). Palaeoenvironmental changes centered on the 8,200calBP event have recently correlated with changes in subsistence and technology traditionally associated with the difference between Typical Capsian and Upper Capsian.

Obsidian is a naturally formed volcanic glass that was an important part of the material culture of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Obsidian was a highly integrated part of daily and ritual life, and its widespread and varied use may be a significant contributor to Mesoamerica’s lack of metallurgy. Lithic and contextual analysis of obsidian, including source studies, are important components of archaeological studies of past Mesoamerican cultures and inform scholars on economy, technological organization, long-distance trade, ritual organization, and socio-cultural structure.

preklassikFollowing the removal of cortex (when applicable), bifacial, unifacial, and expedient flake stone tools could be produced through lithic reduction. Prismatic blade production (Figure 6), a technique employing a pressure flaking-like technique that removed blades from a polyhedral core, was ubiquitous throughout Mesoamerica. Modern attempts to redesign production techniques are heavily based on Spanish records and accounts of witnessed obsidian knapping.

As the distribution of obsidian sources in Mesoamerica is generally limited, many areas and sites lacked a local obsidian source or direct access to one. As a result, tool curation through edge-rejuvenation and/or resharpening was commonly used on larger-mass tools, such as bifaces, to prolong the tool’s (and the raw materials) utility. While prismatic blades were generally not curated (in the traditional sense) due to their small size, utility of the tools may have been maintained by changing their function. In other words, as the edge of a blade lost its sharpness after long-term use, the blade may have been used in scraping activities, which does not require a very sharp edge, than as a cutting implement. Other curation techniques of prismatic blades involve reshaping them into other tool types, such as projectile points and awls, for example (Figure 7).

An impressive book about the theme: 

The Emergence of Pressure Blade Making (http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-1-4614-2003-3)


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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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