Mass Analysis of Flaking Debris: Studying the Forest Rather Than the Tree



Studying the attributes of individual debitage pieces often leads to excessive analytic time and costs and to ambiguous behavioral interpretations. The latter is due both to the subjectivity inherent in the process and to the complex relationship which may exist between flake attributes and flintknapping processes. Mass analysis or aggregate analysis of flaking debris focuses on size distribution and flake shape information derived from size-graded debitage samples which are studied en masse. Mass analysis offers clear advantages in objectivity and the ability to handle numerically large samples, including data from broken as well as whole flakes. In this paper several experimental data sets are studied by the mass analysis procedure to illustrate the interpretive power of the method. Guidelines for recording mass analysis data are discussed, as are several means for extracting and presenting useful technological information inherent in the basic mass analysis data set. Examples are offered which illustrate application of the method for interpretation of flaking debris aggregates from multiple Northern Plains archeological sites reflecting great functional and settlement diversity.