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Archaeology/Lithics in Archaeology


QUESTION: Hello Ralph,

I am researching graduate programs and trying to find the right school for me. As of now I am narrowing down schools by subject, before worrying about finances. I saw that one of your areas of expertise is in lithics, which is the subject I am most interested in. I have been looking for schools that emphasize lithics and other stone tools, but so far I haven't found many. ASU seems to be the most prominant one. The two cultural regions I am looking at are the Pacific Northwest Great Basin and Mesoamerica, specifically Teotihuacan. I know ASU is great for Mesoamerica, but I would still like to know about any schools that reasearch Great Basin obsidian stone tools. Can you suggest other schools that focus on lithics? It is not my only interest, but it's currently my most specific interest. I got my B.S. in anthropology from U of Oregon, and became interested in obsidian points at the UO field school. Of all lithics, I most prefer obsidian and obsidian tools, and would ideally go to a school that deals with obsidian, although from what I've seen, that's a tall order.
Lastly, did you go to a school to study lithics, or did you become an expert later in life?

ANSWER: Hi Cassidy,

My interest in lithics stems from the fact that the largest volume of cultural material other then ceramics is lithic material.  I was initially interested in ground stone tools and later chipped stone but my interest in all things lithics has always been there since I found my first "arrow head" as a kid on the family farm.  Lithics are also a technology that spans thousands of years and all of the continents.  It is thus one of the most wide spread ancient technologies man has created.  

As far as I am aware, there are no schools that focus on lithics and I would view this as a specialization that may hamper your broader understanding of the cultural aspects of lithic use.  I would also avoid specializing in a specific area until you do your PhD.  I always felt that if you start broad and then focus, you have a much better and clearer view of cultural functional across a broader range.

ASU is a great school,  I went to Northwesterd during its heyday, but ASU is definately the place to go.  Some of the schools in Florida and Texas do have good meso programs but read up on the profs first to see how strong they are and what kind of ties they have to the region. if they run field schools and what are they doing with the materials etc..

And if you are really into chipped stone, hook up with one of the people that makes surgical tools out of obsidian for eye surgeons.  I learned from Guy Muto and spent a summer with him, a great experience.  Thre are others out there who do knapping for surgical tools.  Can't get much sharper then a molecule of glass.

Not sure if I helped, ask more questions.  Thats why I'm here.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks Ralph, that is helpful, especially if I choose to focus on Mesoamerica. Still, I'm debating between study Mesoamerica or Oregon, and I wonder if you know of schools that would focus on the culture surrounding pacific northwest obsidian tools?

Hi Cassidy

Go on the web and put in Guy Muto obsidian.  He was (is) from the north west he was an obsidian knapper and made surgical scaples for eye surgeons.  If you do the research and find where he went to school or taught, you'd be in a very good place for lithics.


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Ralph Salier


Archaeologist for the last 30 years. Norh American generalist and Hopwell culture/Red Ocher culture specifically. Lithics Expert and Ground Stone tools.


Past/Present clients
Numerous museums in US and Canada. Several University Anthropology Departments.

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