Use-wear analysis

Use-wear analysis consists of evaluating macroscopic and microscopic traces of wear on the surface of archaeological artefacts. Experimental studies carried out with replicas of ancient artefacts demonstrate that the characteristics of wear marks vary systematically according to the worked material (e.g., hide, wood, meat, bone) and to the applied forces and motions (e.g., cutting, scraping, wedging).

This enables use-wear and microwear analysts to infer the past use (or uses) of ancient artefacts with greater accuracy than through reliance on ethnographic and historical sources. This analytical method is routinely applied to flint, bone and polished-stone objects, while its extension to copper and bronze artefacts has begun relatively recently. Reluctance to evaluate metals can be ascribed to fears that recycling, manipulation, re-sharpening, and post-depositional corrosion would seriously hinder its interpretive potential. However, many researchers have achieved excellent results by analysing prehistoric metal objects. Their work shows that not only can questions concerning the function of ancient and historic metalwork be addressed, but that this method allows greater insights into the manufacturing technology of objects.

Analysis of iron and steel artefacts is not normally undertaken in archaeology since extensive surface corrosion has destroyed all ancient wear marks. However, trial analysis undertaken at Newcastle shows that the principles and methods of use-wear analysis can be positively applied to non-corroded ethnographic objects, hence their inclusion in the Cutting Edge project.