2.4. The View from the Quarry

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For over one hundred years archaeologists in the Americas have noted the potential of studying quarries, yet consistency is lacking in the approaches that have been taken, making it difficult to compare quarrying behavior cross-culturally. The principal theoretical objective for quarry studies in many parts of the world is establishing a link between models of social change and the extraction of resources at a give quarry through time. Despite the productive research into quarrying during the early part of the twentieth century, quarries worldwide have received insufficient attention by archaeologists.

Beginning with the pioneering work of William Henry Holmes (1900;1919), archaeologists have recognized that the remains of quarrying and mining have the potential to provide valuable information about the past. Holmes' work was a major contribution as he discussed the broad issues of the geographic locations of known quarries and workshops, artifact manufacture, the quantities of waste material, and the use of fire in quarrying. The sole major component of modern quarry studies that Holmes did not explore was technical flake analysis, which wasn't developed yet, and a discussion of the chronology of the use of the quarries, which was very difficult to achieve prior to radiocarbon dating.

With the development of geochemical sourcing methods during the 1960s that linked materials with certainty to their geological source areas, quarry studies began to be of greater interest. The goal of most quarry studies is, through a combination of evidence from the resource procurement and the consumption contexts, to examine changes through time in the mechanisms of exchange that link the production and consumption together. These mechanisms are believed to reflect the prevailing organization of the stone tool economy.

A central challenge in conducting archaeological research at quarries is that at the typical raw material source, due to the sheer volume of archaeological materials and the variability in procurement contexts in prehistory, it is vital to have a clear research strategy. By targeting research questions and theoretical goals, and then determining the appropriate sampling methods, the abundance of material at a quarry can be approached with a few specific guiding questions to be answered, as well as an eye for new, unanticipated findings. Several researchers have discussed frameworks for studying the ancient quarrying of stone. Torrence describes the rich potential of studying production and exchange from the perspective of the quarry in terms of the unique position of the quarry for the study of a "complete exchange system" (Torrence 1986: 91, see Section 2.2.5).

These frameworks for quarry research fall into three sets of approaches, corresponding roughly to major theoretical groups in archaeology, and most will use a combination of these approaches emphasizing (1) efficiency, (2) social factors, and/or (3) ideology. The theoretical approach taken is often conditioned by the available data. For example, an ideological approach is strongest when demonstrable ethnographic, historical, or archaeological data are available that display a clear ideological basis for behavior concerning the stone tool procurement. Similarly, efficiency and error rates are more measurable from some reduction strategies, like prismatic blade production, and therefore cost minimizing analyses are very fruitful with such data.