Scanning Electron Microscopy


In this paper, I discuss a study in which I attempted to determine whether or not the inhabitants of the McKeithen site, a Weeden Island Period mound and village complex in what is today northern Florida, employed heat treatment as part of their lithic reduction technology, and if so, at what point in the reduction sequence it was conducted. I used a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to photograph raw and heat treated control samples of northern Florida chert, then debitage and tools of chert and silicified coral from the McKeithen site which represented the range of colors and luster present in the assemblage. A comparison of the photographs of the controls with those of the archaeological specimens showed that the McKeithen knappers did heat treat some of their lithic materials. Based on this sample, I determined that about 16% of the chert and 38% of the silicified coral had been heat treated. In general, the McKeithen knappers brought potential cores to the village from nearby quarries, heat treated some of them, then detached flakes from them and reduced the flakes, and occasionally the cores, into tools. While this study largely corroborates the finding that luster is a better macroscopic indicator of heat treatment than color change, exceptions occurred which demonstrate the necessity of using instrumental techniques to accurately detect heat treatment.

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