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Lithics Ireland
Lithic Analysis and Consultancy

Mesolithic flake

Abstract
The primary aims of this study were to determine how vein quartz behaves in an open wood fire and to suggest how burnt quartz may reliably be distinguished from unburnt quartz. Experimental burning was conducted on 10–50 mm pieces of knapped quartz collected from outcrops and beach cobbles near a later Mesolithic and Neolithic quartz scatter at Belderrig, north County Mayo, Ireland. Burning resulted in considerable fragmentation, with the majority of post-burning fragments <10 mm in size. Compared to experiments with flint, few quartz pieces were expelled from the hearth during burning, probably due to lower water content. Burning reduced the lustre and transparency of quartz and oxidized any iron-bearing rock impurities to a red-brown or pink colour, but these changes could only be diagnostic of burning where unburnt quartz of the same type is available for comparison. Burning did not affect the texture of the quartz, though quartz grain boundaries became more visible in some samples. Under the microscope, all >5 μm fluid inclusions in quartz lost their fluid contents, often with the development of fluid escape structures, and this is likely to be a reliable discriminant between burnt and unburnt vein quartz generally, even in the absence of unburnt material for comparison. Burning also creates microfractures, but this feature does not provide a diagnostic test of burning as there is considerable overlap between burnt and unburnt samples in microfracture density.

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