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(cover picture) Patten, Bob
2005 Peoples of the Flute: A Study in Anthropolithic Forensics. Denver, Colorado: Stone Dagger Publications.

Notes: 288 p. : ill. ; 23 cm. ISBN: 9780966870114
Reviewed 8 Apr 2010 by:
Metin I. Eren <>
Department of Anthropology , Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, USA
Medium: Written Literature
Indians of North America - Implements
Stone implements - North America
Projectile points - North America
Flintknapping - North America
North America - Antiquities

ABSTRACT:    This well-illustrated and clearly written book provides a clear and detailed overview of the mechanics of Paleoindian stone tool production for scholarly and lay audiences.

There is no question that academically-oriented flintknapping in the 20th century contributed significantly to our understanding of the archaeological record and human evolution. Thus far in the new century, pioneering application of methods such as 3-D scanning (Clarkson et al. 2006), geometric morphometrics (Lycett et al. 2006), cladistics (Buchanan and Collard 2008), and modern computer software (Eren et al. 2008) allow new questions to be asked and old assumptions to be tested through experimental stone tool replication. Bob Patten’s Peoples of the Flute is an inspired contribution in this new wave of stone tool research. Capitalizing on his engineering expertise and understanding of fracture mechanics, and combining these with his masterful flintknapping skills, Patten not only delivers a manual for teaching and a textbook for learning, but a hypothesis-cauldron, the tasty contents of which promise to nourish all serious researchers with ideas for their own experiments.

Peoples of the Flute possesses a number of positive aspects, but perhaps most important is its accessibility. Scientific research must be as objective and rigorous as possible, but it should not be "hidden, or cryptic" (page 10). Throughout the text Patten presents his ideas in plain English. While readers may not agree with all of his arguments, they can at least be confident that they understand where the author is coming from, and that they will not fall victim to any of the semantic misinterpretations that plague debate about lithic technology. This does not hint that the book may be unscholarly, far from it: all the basic concepts are properly attributed to their original architects, with occasional in-text citations and ten pages of references.

Chapters one (Introduction) and two (Evidence) present basic archaeological tenets (e.g. context and dating), introduce the Paleoindian lithic technology "family" (page 32), and discuss current issues involved in North American Late Pleistocene research (e.g. routes and megafaunal extinctions). These chapters are not meant to be an exhaustive review establishing independent conclusions on these broad topics, but they provide a summary narrative that will frame the more focused chapters that follow. Chapter three (Transforming Technology) provides an interesting discussion on the philosophy of technology, how it evolves, and what triggers that evolution. Perhaps most fascinating is the discussion of societal "rules" and craftsman skill-level (page 60-63), in which Patten suggests the former can act as a substitute for the latter.

Chapter four (Fracture Mechanics) should be required reading for any undergraduate or graduate class on stone tool technology. Here Patten acknowledges the contribution of Tony Baker (1996-2009), whose website, Paleoindian and Other Archaeological Stuff, should also be an integral part of any university class on flaked stone. Here Patten and Baker come as close as anybody to developing a unified theoretical body of flaked stone technology. They convincingly show why the subject of fracture mechanics is a vital part, if not the primary way forward, in the analysis of stone tools. Tool support, crack initiation, angle of blow, and Pelcin’s (1996) mass predictor equations, among other topics, are all explained and elaborated upon.

In Chapter five (Lithic Forensics) Patten presents a number of variables (e.g. fracture velocity and flake thickness), and clearly and concisely explains their relationship during the process of stone tool reduction. Graphs and mathematical equations nicely complement the text. Then, using one of the pinnacles of bifacial fluting, Folsom projectile-points, chapter six (Details of Fluting) explains the "Folsom Recipe" (page 139) for fluting using the framework established in the first five chapters. Every stage of production is examined, from toolstone selection to basal edge grinding. In each Folsom reduction stage, Patten presents knapping variations practiced in the production of other Paleoindian projectile-point types (e.g. Clovis, Folsom, and Barnes). While many of these distinctions are important and empirically supported, I found myself in a few cases yearning for more hard numbers. For example, Patten writes "Clovis points were usually made from slightly tougher grades of stone than Folsom" (page 140). It would be helpful to see "grades of stone" defined, and the number of projectiles within each grade accordingly tabulated. In the end his general statement, and a few others like it, may be correct, but they still need to be assessed and supported quantitatively (as Patten has done in most other cases discussed, e.g. Folsom reduction stages and the development of uniform preform thickness). However, these are minor quibbles - his few qualitative judgments are based on keen observations and vast experience, and thus retain their value as highly testable proposals.

In Chapters seven (Life Cycle of Stone Tools), eight (The Language of Flakes), and nine (Lineage of Fluted Points), Peoples of the Flute returns to a broader narrative regarding the role stone tools played in Late Pleistocene society. From here, Patten establishes a number of expectations, with supporting case studies and mathematical models, that predict what patterning archaeological sites should yield in particular circumstances (quarries, kill sites, habitation sites, etc.), both in terms of typology and technology. These chapters are discussions in every sense of the word – they not only present ideas, but examine them, offer new interpretations, and display admirable care not to draw overly rigid conclusions given the limited nature of Late Pleistocene archaeological data. Yet, some of the ideas are particularly compelling (and testable), such as the idea that edge to edge (overshot) flaking was utilized for extending the utility of a given volume of rock to increase territorial mobility.

Chapters ten (Replication) and eleven (Concluding Remarks) illustrate the need for more academically-oriented master-level flintknappers. A review of fluting techniques (direct percussion, indirect percussion, pressure, and the use of various contraptions) exemplifies how a single tool form (fluted projectile-point) can be achieved in a multitude of ways. But, as Patten notes, the scientific researcher is not simply concerned with tool form, but also how that form was achieved. Demonstrating (through replication) that a single method was preferred when a multitude of options were theoretically available, leads us to deeper questions about why the choice was made (page 257). Only through the ‘back and forth’ examination of both archaeological specimens and experimentally replicated middle-range data sets is it possible to deduce prehistoric preferred methods, which in turn gives scholars the best chance to accurately pose, ponder, and model the deeper questions that are ultimately the goal of our research.

The illustrations and graphs are excellent, and appropriate supplements to the cogent language, all of which lucidly convey what otherwise might be extremely difficult concepts to grasp. The stone tool photographs are fantastic: rarely are published images of stone tools so clear. The book is complete with a glossary and an index.

This is an exciting time for the study of prehistoric stone tools with new ideas, methods, and analyses developing at a seemingly exponential rate. Patten’s Peoples of the Flute is not only another exciting contribution, but an approach that unifies all others through academically-oriented flintknapping and fracture mechanics. It should not be ignored.

References Cited:

Baker, Tony 1996-2009 Paleoindian and Other Archaeological Stuff. Available online:

Buchanan, Briggs and Mark Collard 2008 Phenetics, cladistics, and the search for the Alaskan ancestors of the Paleoindians: a reassessment of relationships among the Clovis, Nenana, and Denali archaeological complexes. Journal of Archaeological Science 35(6): 1683-1694.

Clarkson, Chris, Lucio Vinicius, and Marta Lahr 2006 Quantifying flake scar patterning on cores using 3D recording techniques. Journal of Archaeological Science 33(1): 132-142.

Eren, Metin I., Aaron Greenspan, C. Garth Sampson 2008 Are Upper Paleolithic blade cores more productive than Middle Paleolithic discoidal cores? A replication experiment. Journal of Human Evolution 55(6): 952-961.

Lycett, Stephen, Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel, and Robert Foley 2006 A crossbeam co-ordinate caliper for the morphometric analysis of lithic nuclei: a description, test, and empirical examples of application. Journal of Archaeological Science 33(6): 847-861.