Investigation the Sources and Uses of Obsidian During the Neolithic in Poland

Investigation the Sources and Uses of Obsidian During the Neolithic in Poland

  • Principal Investigator: Dr Dagmara H. Werra, The Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS

  • Project title: Investigation the Sources and Uses of Obsidian During the Neolithic in Poland
  • Funding scheme: OPUS 15, announced on 15 March 2018

Photo Michał Łepecki

Obsidian, or volcanic glass, was one of the best silica rocks used by prehistoric communities for tool-making purposes. Because of its unique geochemical composition, it is possible, based on various instrumental methods, to study the characteristic features of its geological source and thus determine the most probable origin of materials used to make a given archaeological artefact. This, subsequently, sheds further light on the life of prehistoric communities.

This research project will carry out a number of analyses to paint a more detailed picture of issues such as access to obsidian deposits, as well as resource specialization and use. At the same time, we will be able to track the distribution of obsidian artefacts, study their acquisition, exchange and contacts between prehistoric communities.

The earliest traces of the use of obsidian in prehistoric communities in what is now Poland date back to the Middle Palaeolithic. In the Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic, there is some evidence of isolated artefacts in archaeological inventories, with very rare instances of more numerous obsidian products (e.g. in Rydno's ochre mine). The use of obsidian considerably increases with the arrival in Poland of the first Neolithic communities.

The research project will catalogue Neolithic obsidian artefacts known from archaeological sites across Poland. This will permit us to recreate their distribution network and study the issues related to their mining, processing and trade in prehistoric Neolithic communities.

Photo Michał Łepecki

Neolithic obsidians will undergo a technological and morphological analysis, accompanied by the refitting and weight analysis method, in order to determine the way in which the resource was used in Neolithic communities. The study will also allow us to find out whether different splinting methods were employed for different resources. We will analyse the form in which obsidian arrived at the site, i.e. whether it was delivered in the form of natural concretions or as ready-made tools, and if the latter is shown to have been the case, to determine what kind of tools were given preference. The purpose of selected obsidian artefacts will also be investigated using trace evidence analysis.

Their origin and chronology will also be established with the aid of energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence–EDXRF, a non-destructive method that allows even small artefacts to be tested. The technique allows us to chart the characteristic composition of the artefact and determine its origin. We are also planning to carry out the first obsidian hydration dating (OHD) analyses for a variety of materials excavated in Poland.

The tasks and analyses planned within the framework of the project will shed ample light on the distribution and use of obsidian in the Neolithic in Poland and allow us to draw broad comparisons to arrive at a more dynamic picture of the contacts between prehistoric communities and their obsidian trade. The project will also address issues related to obsidian use technology and specialization in order to determine to what extent the resource was mined from specific deposits and how access to these sites changed over time. The project will contribute to expanding our knowledge of prehistoric communities, particularly in terms of their use of imported resources.

Dr Dagmara H. Werra

Photo Michał Łepecki

Archaeologist, ethnologist. She graduated in archaeology and ethnology from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, and in 2013 earned a PhD degree in archaeology. She is currently employed as Assistant Professor at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. Her research interests centre on flint mining and the identification and use of silica rocks by prehistoric communities. Since 2017, she has served as an editor for Archaeologia Polona, and since 2018 as the Vice-President of the UISPP Flint Minings in Pre- and Protohistoric Times Commission.





Date of publication: 4th Dec 2019