Posts Tagged With: stone tools

Rock or Weapon?

Zachary Padilla is next in our student series. He discusses how to tell the difference between a natural rock and stone tools.

A Rock or a Weapon?

The development of stone tools were a remarkable milestone (ba-dum tss…get it?) in the evolution of man and really signified an increase in our brain capacity. Stone tools are a common find at archaeological sites. I knew a handful of children in my high school who managed to find projectile points, more commonly known as Native American arrowheads, whilst walking along their property lines. The ability to differentiate an actual artifact from a geofact is a skill I wish I had. I am getting a minor in anthropology, and plan to get a masters in Anthropology and Linguistics. Stone tools are never leaving me. If you’re like me and can’t tell a rock from a weapon, I have some tips that have gotten me through my share of archaeology and anthropology courses.


Stone tools and rocks at an Acheulean surface site near the Stillbay turnoff, South Africa. (Photo and caption courtesy of John Atherton)

Now look… I am not trying to say go hunting to do your own archaeology, better known as looting, but if you come across a funny looking rock or maybe you have an upcoming test in archaeology here are some tips I have used to help me tell the difference.

1. Stones are organic shapes!

Probably one of the most notable things are the shapes of rocks versus stone tools. Nature makes organic shapes, curves and smooth edges. A stone tool isn’t smooth, the edges are rough and angled. If the edges are predominant there’s a big chance it is a stone tool.

2. Flakes Nearby?

The way stone tools are made is through striking a stone with a hammer stone to break off edges to make a tool. The pieces that break off from the stone is called a flake, and they are sometimes found nearby the tool itself.

3. Look for Scars

A stone tool will have a series of marks from where the tool had been hit by the hammerstone, these marks are called scars. The scars will be along the edges and angles and often overlap.

4. Context of an Artifact?

If the site where the suspected stone is found, then there could be more of chance of determining its nature. If the grounds were once Native land, and it shares the characteristics stated earlier then there’s a really big chance it’s an artifact2

I hope these tips help you determine the difference between an artifact and a rock. Next time you come across a stone, examine the signs closely. If you’re determining the difference on an exam for your Intro to “Arch” or “Anthro”, look closely at the picture for scars and angle, and if that doesn’t help, go with “C”.  Good luck.


Early Stone Age Tools.” The Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program, 8 Feb. 2016.

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