Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 117–154 | Cite as

Building an Experimental Comparative Reference Collection for Lithic Micro-Residue Analysis Based on a Multi-Analytical Approach

  • A. PedergnanaEmail author
  • A. Ollé


Residue analysis applied to stone tools is a useful aid for better understanding their past function and, by extension, reconstructing early human behaviour. However, if the nature of residues found on the lithic tools is misinterpreted, so will be our understanding of their archaeological context. As a consequence, correctly identifying residues in the domain of lithic studies is of paramount importance. With this main goal in mind, we analysed different experimental materials likely to have been involved in daily tasks in the prehistoric context (e.g. bone, wood, meat). Microscopic analyses were then carried out using two (comparable) techniques: Optical Light Microscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy. Also, energy dispersive X-rays spectroscopy (EDX or EDS) was applied to the experimental samples to determine their elemental composition. Advantages and disadvantages of both microscopic methods and their implications for correct residue identification are discussed. The distribution of residues on lithic surfaces is also considered. This study resulted in the construction of a data-set including both photographic material and EDX spectra for each residue analysed. The main result is that, compared to OLM scanning, SEM analyses highly improves the accuracy of residue identification.


Micro-residue analysis Optical light microscopy Scanning electron microscopy Energy dispersive X-rays spectroscopy Stone tools 



This work was supported by the MINECO-FEDER (project CGL2015-65387-C3-1-P), by the AGAUR (project SGR 2014-899) and by the URV (projects 2014, 2015 and 2016PFR-URV-B2-17), and it is framed in CERCA Programme / Generalitat de Catalunya. A.P. is the beneficiary of a FI-DGR pre-doctoral grant from the Generalitat de Catalunya (2014FI_B 00539).

We are thankful to the Servei de Recursos Científics i Tècnics team of the Rovira i Virgili University (Tarragona, Spain) for their help during SEM sessions. We warmly thank Deborah Barsky for the language revision of this text. We are also grateful to two anonymous reviewers, whose comments have significantly improved our manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IPHES, Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució SocialTarragonaSpain
  2. 2.Àrea de PrehistòriaUniversitat Rovira i VirgiliTarragonaSpain
  3. 3.Histoire Naturelle de l’Homme Préhistorique (HNHP, UMR 7194)Sorbonne Universités, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, CNRS, Université Perpignan Via DominicaParisFrance

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