Use-wear analysis

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Use-wear analysis is a method in archaeology to identify the functions of artifact tools by closely examining their working surfaces and edges. It is mainly used on stone tools, and is sometimes referred to as "traceological analysis" (from the neologism traceology).

Using a high-powered microscope it is possible to closely study the edge of a tool such as a hand-axe and identify characteristic patterns or wear or damage or material residues created by different uses of that tool, such as sawing, cutting or piercing. Tool edge damage and polish are two major sources for information about the use of a tool. Variations of polish type are formed depending on how a tool edge is used.

Acheulean hand-axes from Kent. The types shown are (clockwise from top) cordate, ficron, and ovate.

The type of edge damage also varies among different tools. Basic edge damage types include step fractures, snap fractures, micro-flake scars, and edge rounding. Fractures are differentiated by looking at both fracture initiation and propagation. Fracture indentation is defined as where and how the fracture of an edge begins. Fracture propagation is defined by the path a crack follows, and the degree of the crack’s growth.

Experimental archaeology can be employed to test hypotheses on tool function by replicating different activities with freshly made tools. The reliability of experimental archaeology as an information source for use-wear analysis has been tested through multiple blind tests. These tests judge the ability to identify tool motion and contact material. One study done at the University of California Davis found that tool action was correctly identified 84 percent of the time, while tool material was correctly identified 74 percent of the time.

The reliability of experimental archeology has made it a popular method for analyzing use-wear. In addition to being reliable, use-wear analysis is both inexpensive and quick. With a microscope and proper training, use-wear analysis can easily be conducted. Méry, S. (2007) conducted use-wear analysis and experimental archaeology to examine 7 flint blades from a pottery workshop of Nausharo site in Pakistan, which reveals that these blades were used to trim clay on a turning wheel.[1]


  1. ^ Méry, S., Anderson, P., Inizan, M. L., Lechevallier, M., & Pelegrin, J. (2007). A pottery workshop with flint tools on blades knapped with copper at Nausharo (Indus civilisation, ca. 2500 BC). Journal of Archaeological Science,34(7), 1098-1116

Darvill, T (ed.) (2003). Oxford Concise Dictionary of Archaeology, Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280005-1.


Odell, George. "Verifying the Reliability of Lithic Use-Wear Assessments by 'Blind Tests': The Low-Power Approach." Journal of Field Archaeology 7 (1980): 1-34. Web. <>.