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Obsidian Studies in the Prehistoric Central Mediterranean: After 50 Years, What Have We Learned and What Still Needs to Be Done?

Robert H. Tykot
Published Online: 2017-10-20 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opar-2017-0018


Obsidian sourcing studies have been conducted in the central Mediterranean for more than 50 years. Detailed studies have been done on the geological sources on four Italian islands, and many analytical methods have been used to successfully distinguish between them. The ability to conduct analyses using those minimally (LA-ICP-MS) or totally (XRF, pXRF) non-destructive to artifacts has led to >10,000 analyses just in the last decade. Along with the ability to assign artifacts to specific geological subsources, and an increased number of studies of techno-typology, this has allowed interpretations to be made about source access and territorial control, craft specialization and the chaîne opératoire, as well as the modes, frequency, and directions of movement and how that varied spacially and temporally. Obsidian especially from Lipari and from Monte Arci in Sardinia traveled hundreds of kilometers on a regular basis starting in the Early Neolithic. By the Late Neolithic, in some areas there was selection of specific obsidian sources and subsources, and differences in production methods and tool typology. Obsidian distribution and usage in the central Mediterranean continued over four-and-one-half millennia, in many areas well into the Bronze Age. There is much more still to do integrating these different studies, especially use-wear studies, along with those of lithic and other materials that also played a role in prehistoric transport and trade systems.

Keywords: obsidian provenance/provenience; trade and exchange; trace element analysis; X-ray fluorescence (XRF); Italy; France; Croatia; Malta; Tunisia


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About the article

Received: 2017-07-28

Accepted: 2017-09-24

Published Online: 2017-10-20

Published in Print: 2017-10-26

Citation Information: Open Archaeology, Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 264–278, ISSN (Online) 2300-6560, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opar-2017-0018.

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