The Magnetic Susceptibility of Cherts: Archaeological and Geochemical Implications of Source Variation

Document Type


Publication Date



Recent exploratory studies have suggested the potential of magnetic susceptibility (MS) as a rapid and low-cost sourcing technique for lithic archaeological materials. Most commercially available susceptibility instruments, however, do not have the sensitivity to characterize weakly susceptible cherts and silicified woods. Comparative results from nine chert, two silicified wood, a porcellanite, and four obsidian sources using a highly sensitive, calibrated, and magnetically-shielded instrument allow exploration of MS variability within and between geological sources. Color, texture, grain size, and large inclusions of cherts and obsidians are not straightforward determinants of MS. Weathering rinds (patinas) and cortex from a variety of cherts yield reduced MS values, as does a recrystalized cobble of Rio Maior flint, indicating that magnetic mineral removal during chemical weathering and diagenesis is more prevalent than staining or other mineral penetration of cobbles. In situations of multiple overlapping MS ranges, analysis is limited to discriminating cherts with high or low MS range distributions, for example in an atypicality index. Some silicified woods, obsidians, and porcellanites possess a much greater range of intersource variability, and thus sourcing analysis is more likely to be broadly successful using the susceptibility of these materials. Unexpected results from an archaeological test using a historic lithic assemblage from Azinheira, Portugal, indicate that assemblage MS may be influenced by practices of raw material selection. Understanding variability in lithic MS has relevance for the design of most source geochemical sampling, as well as the behavioral interpretations that result from such investigations. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Publication Source (Journal or Book title)

Geoarchaeology - An International Journal

First Page


Last Page


This document is currently not available here.