How to Identify a Stone Tool and Three Easy Step to Follow When You Find an Artifact

My first experience with stone tools, or lithics, was during my Field School. I remember walking in a survey line and picking up every tiny thing that wasn’t dirt, hoping they were artifacts. Sometimes they were actually artifacts, but mostly I picked up gravel, clumps of sand and on sad occasions, prairie dog poop. We live and we learn.

A chipped stone tool is simply a rock that has been altered by humans in the past to make tools for hunting, processing meat and plants, and other problems they may have needed to solve. These tools begin as a large piece of rock (core) and are made by hitting one stone with another (percussion). In this process, also called flint knapping, debitage or waste flakes are also produced. Both stone tools and debitage are by far the most prevalent things archaeologists come across in their study of ancient history.

One of the best ways to learn about lithics is through flint knapping yourself but this video shows the basics of how you get from core to tool:

So now you know the process of stone tool production, here are a few sketched examples of various types of stone tools and debitage/flakes from the book Lithics: Macroscopic Approaches to Analysis written by William Andrefsky.

Different types of stone tools from arrow heads (projectile points) to large cutting tools–Image from Andrefsky (2005)
Debitage or waste flakes produced from stone tool production. Note the ripples on each of the flakes. These are created from the force of the hammerstone when it hits the core–Image from Andrefsky (2005)

I Just Found an Artifact, What Do I Do?

  1. First, congratulations! You are an archaeology enthusiast now! Pick it up! Take a look at it and see if you can locate some of the characteristics that you learned in the first part of this post. Do you see any ripples? Is it just a flake or maybe you’ve found a tool of some kind?

  2. Take a picture of it and put it back EXACTLY where you found it. The location of artifacts, yes even tiny flakes, is extremely important to archaeological research. The provenience, or physical location of the artifact, can help archaeologists answer important questions about that specific past event. For example, if you found a lot of small flakes in a concentrated area, you might be standing right on top of an area where someone thousands of years ago was re-sharpening their arrowhead. Once you take these artifacts away from that physical space, archaeologists can no longer use the context to help them in research.

  3. Once you’ve returned the artifact back to where you found it, contact the local cultural resource authority. If you are at a National Park you could go to the visitor’s center and notify them. If it’s a National Forest, call the Ranger station and someone will go visit your important find and record it! Once its recorded, then they can take the proper action to mitigate and protect this cultural resource that YOU just discovered!

There’s a lot that I didn’t cover in this post but if you want to learn more you can check out the following references:

Andrefsky, William Jr.
2005    Lithics: Macroscopic Approaches to Analysis. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Ashmore, Wendy and Robert J. Sharer
2014    Discovering Our Past: A Brief Introduction to Archaeology. Sixth Edition. McGraw-Hill, New York.

LTF Update: Long Time, No Post

A Quick Update!

Leveling the Field is now an independent enterprise! My co-writer Devan W. has graduated and moved on to bigger and better things so I will be taking on the writing (maybe having some guest writers? Anyone interested?)

A very special GIF brought to you by Paul Buckner

So What Have I Been Working On?

I am in the last semester of coursework for my masters. Yes, you read that correctly. MY LAST SEMESTER OF COURSEWORK. I started this blog in the middle of my undergraduate and now I’m finishing my masters? How the H did time fly so quickly?

I’ve been incredibly overwhelmed with my courses and also my thesis research (in a good way!). Soooo I haven’t been on this platform for a while but, I’m currently taking a Citizen Science and Public History course which is reminding me of how much I love writing for audiences that are outside of school. Thus my return!

What’s My Research About?

My current research project is situated in the Great Plains of North America, specifically the plains of Colorado.

What’s the first thing you think about when you think about the Plains? I’m sure things like flat, vast, open, no trees, farms, cows, ranches, boring and the like might come to the mind. Well what’s even there to study you might ask? Actually quite a lot! It’s not just dead grass! The Great Plains is actually covered in tens of thousands of small lakes, called playas, and people have made a living in and around them for at least 13,000 years.

I am working with a full time farmer/part time archaeology enthusiast to record 20 playa sites that aren’t yet in the state records. This way, more people (because currently it’s just me and citizen researcher) will know about the diversity of hunter-gatherer life on the plains especially regarding how they might have interacted with playa lakes.

What this looks like in terms of my everyday is a lot of reading about modern and historic hunter-gatherer lives, looking at archaeological site reports, driving out to look at collections, analyzing stone tools, presenting at conferences and drinking A LOT OF coffee.


Will I Still Be Writing After Graduation?

YES! I have a couple series planned so that I can continue writing and stay in the archaeology loop after I graduate. So I hope to see you back here for these upcoming posts about ancient glue, the first evidence for milk and other stories about bad ass archaeologists.



From Venezuela to Taiwan: an interview with Dr. Pei-Lin Yu

Pei-Lin Yu, Anthropology, studio portrait
In one of her favorite shirts! Photo courtesy of Dr. Yu.

Last fall, I read for the first time the book Hungry Lightening by Dr. Pei-Lin Yu. It was recommended to me by my advisor as I was trying to think of content for this blog. I picked it up and was immediately captured by Dr. Yu’s writing. I never dreamed that I would be at a breakfast diner in Boise, Idaho interviewing her in person and hearing her retell the story of her delivering a set of twins in the savanna’s of Venezuela. Continue reading “From Venezuela to Taiwan: an interview with Dr. Pei-Lin Yu”

Please excuse the lack of blog posts, we were studying and making a music video.

Our fall semester is finally coming to an end…

After our amazing trip to Boise State (which we can’t wait to tell you about!) things have been a whirlwind of wonderful but we are so ready for the winter break. Devan and I have been working diligently in our archaeology courses. Especially that of lithics, with the late night lab hours ultimately culminating into this special video.

It is obvious Devan has talent. I on the other hand have questionable skills in dancing and air instruments but these were the only artistic contributions I had and I really wanted to be in the video. So thank you to Devan for letting me intrude on her performance.

We will be posting exciting interviews and some new content come the spring semester so stay tuned!

Hungry Lightning


One of my favorite Anthropology professor often says, that “Anthropology is all about the stories. I initially picked up the book, Hungry Lightning (Yu 1997) because I was in desperate need for a good story. As a student, I often find myself lost in the technicalities of field work and research and can forget about the actual people we are studying and trying to learn of. Though technical methods are, of course, extremely important in order to make inferences from artifacts, I think it is crucial to begin with ethnographic works. Hungry Lightning is a personal account of Dr. Pei-Lin Yu’s field-work in the savanna plains of Venezuela. Her experience and writing has a unique feminine touch that so beautifully illustrates the Pumé way of life. What I loved most about this book is that it reminded me of the real reason of why I continue to pursue the field of archaeology, it’s all about the stories.

Dr. Yu lived with the Pumé for eighteen months. Her time in the village of Doro Ańa is spent fully immersed in the community. She learns the Pumé language, eats, forages, hunts and cooks the traditional food and develops intimate relationships with the local people. Continue reading “Hungry Lightning”

It’s time for a menstruation chat

I’ll begin this post with a warning. If you are squeamish, uncomfortable or just don’t like talking about menstruation, this post isn’t for you. If you also know me personally and don’t really want to know the ins and outs of how I survived field school on my period, this post isn’t for you…

Just kidding, this post is especially for those who don’t want to stay and chat. So glad to have you!

Continue reading “It’s time for a menstruation chat”

Passion and perseverance: an interview with Dr. Brenda Todd

As we discussed in our first introductory post, we will be interviewing and highlighting the many wonderful female archaeologists of today. We have some great interviews lined up and can’t wait to share them with you! To kick off our interview series, we had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Brenda Todd from the Public Lands History Center at Colorado State University.

Chimney Rock site near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Dr. Brenda Todd

Dr. Brenda Todd received her master’s degree and PhD from the University of Colorado, Boulder in archaeology with her research focusing on the American Southwest. She has since worked in many capacities including implementing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), planning for the stewardship of cultural resources with the National Park Service, private consulting, and presently as program manager with the Public Lands History Center. We talked to her about her awesome job experiences at NPS, what first sparked her interest in archaeology and the importance of being able to effectively communicate with the public. Continue reading “Passion and perseverance: an interview with Dr. Brenda Todd”