The Application of Relfectance Spectroscopy to Chert Provenance of Mississippian Symbolic Weaponry


Determination of the source of chert artifacts ties past peoples to specific locations on the landscape either through direct or indirect procurement strategies allowing researchers to visualize interactions with both resources and people. However, due to inherent variability accurate provenance data often remains elusive. The reliance upon chert provenance data obtained through macroscopic techniques is problematic and emphasizes the importance of continued research and development of analytical methods whose aim is the objective characterization of source for archaeological materials manufactured from chert.

The following thesis is organized around three primary objectives. The first objective is the investigation of the non-destructive provenance application of two reflectance spectroscopy techniques (VNIR, FTIR) in differentiating Dover and Fort Payne chert. The second objective is to test the ‘single-source theory’ which stipulates that the chert used to manufacture Mississippian sword-form bifaces was solely acquired from deposits of Lower St. Louis “Dover” chert located near the town of Dover, Tennessee. The final objective is to place the sword provenance data into a cultural framework in order to explain the function of the swords within Middle Mississippi Stage polities.

The ‘single source’ theory has implications for the socio-economic and political reconstruction of Mississippian polities. The presence of ‘Dover’ chert swords in Mississippian contexts from Oklahoma to Georgia implies long distance procurement, acquisition via exchange networks or political alliances. However, the outcropping of visually similar Fort Payne chert over much of the Southeastern and portions of the Mid-western United States makes the single source hypothesis uncertain.

The results highlight the significant application of reflectance spectroscopy techniques within chert provenance studies. Provenance data for the sample of Mississippian sword-form bifaces refutes the single source theory by showing that variation in resource selection decisions existed. Ethnographic and iconography data clarifies the role that the sword-form bifaces had in Mississippian societies. The provenance data supports the conclusion that the ‘exoticness’ of the material was not an important component in the symbolic cultural meaning of the sword-form bifaces. The results contribute to a growing body of research focusing on the acquisition and use of exotic goods in Mississippian polities.

Cite this Record

The Application of Relfectance Spectroscopy to Chert Provenance of Mississippian Symbolic Weaponry. ( tDAR id: 391077) ; doi:10.6067/XCV89P333W

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 1200 to 1400 (Middle Mississippi Period)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -89.674; min lat: 34.198 ; max long: -83.099; max lat: 38.24 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Ryan Parish


General Note: Dissertation project which investigated the non-destructive application of chert sourcing using VNIR and FTIR spectroscopy.

Source Collections

McClung Museum, Knoxville, TN Chert Type Collections located at the University of Memphis, Murray State University and The Tennessee Division of Archaeology

Resources Inside this Project (Viewing 1-3 of 3)


  1. The Application of Reflectance Spectroscopy to Chert Provenance of Mississippian Symbolic Weaponry (2013)


  1. Chert Spectral Database (2013)
  2. Chert Spectral Database (2013)