Color Matters: The Selection and Use of Lithic Raw Materials in Viking Age and Medieval Iceland

Author(s): Kevin Smith

Year: 2015


As our abilities to source stone tools increase, our questions become ever more sophisticated as our methodologies reach deeper into the elemental and isotopic levels and an ever-broadening range of statistical analyses. Yet we also recognize that lithic raw materials were selected by their past users for entirely different reasons. A wide range of approaches have been used to explore the roles of proximity, accessibility, mechanical qualities, and exchange relationships, among others, in determining how and why the stone tools and debitage we recover were initially acquired and accumulated in the sites we excavate.

However, relatively few analyses take the actual color of lithic raw materials seriously into account. Color is often regarded as a secondary accident of a raw material's chemical composition or physical structure rather than as the primary reason for its original acquisition and use. This paper will explore case studies from domestic and sacral contexts in Viking Age and Medieval Iceland to argue that selection for color may sometimes have been the primary reason for acquiring and accumulating lithic raw materials for utilitarian use, for specific roles in ritual settings, and even in manuscript preparation. Color was therefore also a key determinant of quarry/source selection.

SAA 2015 abstracts made available in tDAR courtesy of the Society for American Archaeology and Center for Digital Antiquity Collaborative Program to improve digital data in archaeology. If you are the author of this presentation you may upload your paper, poster, presentation, or associated data (up to 3 files/30MB) for free. Please visit for instructions and more information.

Cite this Record

Color Matters: The Selection and Use of Lithic Raw Materials in Viking Age and Medieval Iceland. Kevin Smith. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397263)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -178.41; min lat: 62.104 ; max long: 178.77; max lat: 83.52 ;