Archaeology at Vrahos

The Economy of Debitage

By far the commonest artifacts in the scatter are cores and unmodified flakes. Levallois and discoid cores as well as Levallois products (and a few tools) show that Vrahos silex was exploited in the Middle Palaeolithic, while prismatic cores show exploitation in later periods of prehistory, especially the Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age.

One of the largest artifacts we have found is a prismatic core that weighs 1.3 kg (Fig. 11). Another is a discoid core almost as large (Fig. 12). Debitage frequently began from such sizeable cores, for the scatter includes many tools made on large flakes (c. 10 cm long) as well as sizeable flakes from the initial stages of core preparation (Fig. 13).

However, most of the cores left at the site are smaller than these large pieces by a factor of ten. Some were reduced to their present size as several rounds of flakes were removed from them. Others began as small chunks of silex. We cannot, however, usually tell which was the case (Figures 14 and 15).

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Fig. 11: A large prismatic core, 1.3 kg, abandoned in an early stage of flaking. Together with a hammer stone and two smaller prismatic cores it was found in a place protected from traffic and erosion, amid large boulders in the periphery of Vrahos. Both the large core and the hammer stone are seen in b a few minutes after their discovery: the core lies in the foreground, in the direction of the finder' s gaze, while the hammer (from a coarse, dark-colored andesite) is half-hidden by the boulder in front of the woman' s knee. The core is 10 cm long. A few blades up to c. 11 cm in length could be obtained form it, were it not for the flaws (evident in a). Perhaps these flaws were a significant factor in the premature abandonment of this core.

figure 11

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Fig. 12: An exceptionally large discoid core, weighing c. 0.5 kg. Like the prismatic core of Fig. 11, this one too was abandoned prematurely, for no obvious reasons. The majority of discoid cores in the scatter weigh less than 100 grams.

figure 12

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Fig. 13: Pieces of the scale shown here are common in the scatter, and demonstrate that reduction at Vrahos frequently began from large cores, even though such cores are extremely rare at the site. Like decortication flakes, the flake shown in a has removed a portion of a silex chunk that was too coarse and obstructed further flaking.

figure 13

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Fig. 14: Examples of small and mid-size cores that preserve parts of natural surfaces on some of their facets and thereby allow us to estimate the size of the parent silex chunks and reconstruct in part their biographies. The first core (a) preserves parts of natural surfaces on three facets (including the striking platform) and thus illustrates the case of originally small chunks of silex that were turned into cores. A few flakes were struck off, all from the same surface and in the same direction; then, the core was abandoned, at or near the point of being no longer workable (exhausted). Somewhat different is the case of the second core (b). Unworked surfaces are once more preserved on most facets. Up to about a dozen flakes may have been struck off the original chunk, again all in the same direction platform. But the core was cast off long before it was near the point of exhaustion. The third core (c) also began as a small chunk (it too preserves parts of natural surfaces on several facets) but it differs from the previous pieces in an important respect: flakes were removed in three directions, each time from a new striking platform. What we found is an intensively worked, exhausted core.

figure 14

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Fig. 15: In contrast with the cores of Fig. 14, the ones shown here preserve few (a) or no (b) traces of a natural surface. They have been intensely flaked (the second in two, opposite directions) and they thus offer no clues about their original dimensions. That is the case with most of the cores in the scatter. Were they to be found on a site far away from sources of siliceous stones, cores such as these would be interpreted as evidence for the economic use of a scarce resource. At Vrahos this makes little sense. If anything is being economized here, that may be the knapper’s skilled work: it is easier to continue working with an already well-formed core than to start making a new one, at least until the core becomes too small to be supported. In other words, the value of a small core from which several flakes have previously been removed may be higher than the value of a large chunk of raw material, even when the latter holds the promise of many more and larger flakes.

figure 15