Title: Journal of Caribbean archaeology
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 Material Information
Title: Journal of Caribbean archaeology
Series Title: Journal of Caribbean archaeology
Alternate Title: JCA
Abbreviated Title: J. Caribb. archaelo.
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Publisher: Christopher Ohm Clement ;
Christopher Ohm Clement
William F. Keegan
Place of Publication: Gainesville FL
Publication Date: 2005
Frequency: annual
regular
 Subjects
Subject: Archaeology -- Periodicals -- Caribbean Area   ( lcsh )
Antiquities -- Periodicals -- Caribbean Area   ( lcsh )
Genre: periodical   ( marcgt )
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System Details: Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Dates or Sequential Designation: Vol. 1 (2000)-
General Note: Title from title screen (publisher's Web site, viewed Dec. 2, 2002).
General Note: Latest issue consulted: Vol. 5 (2004).
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Bibliographic ID: UF00091746
Volume ID: VID00007
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 003345617
oclc - 41077527
lccn - sn 99003684
issn - 1524-4776

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Journal of Caribbean Archaeology
Copyright 2005
ISSN 1524-4776






THE FUNCTION OF THE EDGE-GROUND COBBLE PUT TO THE TEST
AN INITIAL ASSESSMENT

Reniel Rodriguez Ramos
Florida Museum of Natural History
P.O. Box 117800
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611
rx3 a@ufl.edu

Edge-ground cobbles constitute one of the most common artifact types found in pre-
Arawak sites of the Antilles. Even though the importance of these artifacts as cultural markers
has been widely recognized, the probable use(s) that they served have not been systematically
addressed thus far in the Caribbean. As a result, an experiment was conducted in order to
replicate the type of wear expressions that are commonly observed in this type of artifact, based
primarily on the results of the starch grain analyses that have been conducted on similar tools
recovered from Panama and Colombia, which have shown the presence of cultigens such as
sweet potato, manioc, and maize, among others, in their faceted margins. After using cobbles
i ith similar properties as those found archaeologically for processing each of these foodstuffs
into an edible paste, I reached the conclusion that this type of activity could indeed result in the
production of the marginal facet that characterizes edge-ground cobbles. This opened the door
to argue for the possibility that some of these cultigens could have been introduced by the
earliest immigrants to the islands prior to the Saladoid expansion, and thus to advocate for
further studies on this regard.


One of the most ubiquitous artifacts in
archaeological contexts in Puerto Rico and
the rest of the Caribbean is the edge-ground
cobble (also known as edge-grinders, pebble
grinders, edged cobbles, pollissoir latreaux,
manos simples or majadores laterales). This
tool type consists of an ellipsoidal or half-
moon shaped cobble, in most cases of a
meta-volcanic material, that presents a
ground facet along its longest and thinnest
margin (Figure 1). This faceted section
tends to be convex in cross-section,
presenting a distinct boundary with both
faces of the artifact. In addition to the
facetted margin, most specimens tend to


present battering marks in one of their ends,
usually the one with the most pointed form.

This type of implement has been found
since the earliest occupations of the islands
dated circa 7000 BP, as well as in both early
and late Ceramic Age sites, thus making it
one of the lithic artifacts that presents the
longest history of use in Caribbean. Edge-
ground cobbles also have a wide distribution
in the West Indies, being found in sites from
Trinidad (Harris 1976; Boomert 2000) to
Cuba (Febles and Baena 1995; Kozlowski
1974), thus indicating a technological
continuity that crosscuts island boundaries.


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 6, 2005






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


Figure 1. Experimental edge-ground cobbles. From clockwi,
from top left, specimens 1 through 4


Even though this artifact is of such high
occurrence, its use(s) have never been
formally tested in the Antilles. The only
suggestions about its function have been
based on morphological criteria, usually
being generically defined as "grinding
stones." However, no direct evidence of this
use estimation nor of the type(s) of
materials) that were processed with these
have been provided thus far.

Recent evidence of starch grain residues
found in the faceted margins of edge-ground
cobbles recovered from Archaic sites in
Panama and Colombia have indicated the
presence of tubers such as manioc, sweet
potatoes and yams (Castillo and Aceituno
2000; Piperno and Holst 1998; Piperno and
Pearsall 1998). In some cases, maize starch
grains were also recovered from these
artifacts as well as from the milling stones
over which these were used. Several tests
conducted by Ranere (1975;1980a;1980b)
indicated the possibility that processing
tubers with cobble tools might produce the
type of wear observed in the edge-ground
cobbles. The information generated by

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


Ranere's tests and the
aforementioned starch grain studies
are particularly intriguing, because
the recent state of evidence from
Puerto Rico and the rest of the
Caribbean indicates that
domesticated resources such as those
represented in the starch residues in
the tools from Panama and Colombia
were not available for consumption
for the earliest populations of the
Antilles.

The prevalent notion in the
Caribbean is that tubers such as
manioc, sweet potato and lerMn,
se among others, were introduced along
with ceramics by the earliest Huecoid
and Saladoid migrants from South
America around 2500 BP. It has also been
traditionally assumed that bitter manioc was
processed only in the way described in the
Early Spanish Chronicles by grating,
juicing and baking the pulp and thus the
possibility of the use of an artifact such as
the edge-ground cobble for preparing edible
foods from this type of root crop would
definitely demand that other cooking
techniques be explored. For the rest of the
tubers, estimations about their processing
have been based strictly on the early Spanish
ethnohistoric record, which indicates that
these were either boiled or roasted. Maize
on the other hand, tends to be considered an
even later introduction to the islands, and
that it played a secondary role to root crops
in the dietary composition of Ceramic Age
societies. It was supposedly consumed
either uncooked in its tender state, baked, or
boiled.

As a result of these issues, an experiment
was modeled to asses systematically the
function of this type of lithic artifact.
Briefly stated, the experiment consisted of
processing some of the foodstuffs


2


Rodriguez Ramos






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


represented in the starch grain analysis, both
tubers (i.e. manioc and sweet potato) and
maize, with cobbles of similar
characteristics to those observed in
archaeological specimens in order to
establish if these faceted margins could be
produced by the manipulation of these
cultivars. The use-wear produced on the
experimental specimens was then compared
to that observed in edge-ground cobbles
found at the Paso del Indio site, located in
north-central Puerto Rico, in order to
determine if specific traces of use associated
with each of the processed materials could
be discriminated, thus shedding some light
into the behavioral patterns associated with
the production of this artifact type.

Previous Research
As previously noted, edge-ground
cobbles have been recovered from a vast
array of sites in both the Caribbean and
Circum-Caribbean areas. These types of
implements were originally documented by
Willey and McGimsey (1954) in the
Monagrillo site located in the Pacific coast
of Panama, which dates back to 4500 BP
(Cooke 1995). Further testing in Panama in
sites such as Cerro Mangote (McGimsey
1956), Casita de Piedra, Trapiche (Ranere
1975; 1976; 1980a), and Abrigo de Carabali
shelters (Ranere and Cooke 1995), among
others, reaffirmed the presence of these
implements. These implements have not
been found yet north of Panama.

In South America, the southernmost
occurrence of edge-ground cobbles was
documented in the Las Vegas Culture of
western Ecuador, with dates that go back to
circa 10,000 BP (Stoterth 1985). In
Colombia, these artifacts have been found in
a great array of sites as early as 10,030 BP
(Gnecco 2000). These implements have
been unearthed from Colombian rock
shelters (Ardila 1984; Botiva 1989) as well


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


Rodriguez Ramos


as from open air sites, both inland and
coastal (Bray 1984; Castillo and Aceituno
2000; Groot 1995; Rodriguez 1991; 1995).
This type of tool has also been documented
in Archaic sites of northern Venezuela
(Rouse and Cruxent 1963; Sanoja 1983).

The ubiquitous occurrence of this type of
implement in Tropical Archaic sites of the
Circum-Caribbean region has lead to its
consideration as the "most typical plant-
processing lithic tool found in the early and
middle Holocene sites in the Humid tropics"
(Piperno and Pearsall 1998:187). The
importance of this type of artifact as a
cultural marker has also been established in
the Caribbean for Archaic contexts
associated to the Ortoiroid series (Alegria et.
al. 1955; Boomert 2000; Rouse 1992). For
instance, Boomert (2000:74) has recently
suggested that "Although the function of the
edge grinders at the Ortoiroid sites of
Trinidad and South American mainland is
not sufficiently known, these implements
should be considered as the type artifacts of
the Ortoiroid series."

In the Caribbean, the earliest occurrence
of edge-ground cobbles has been
documented in the Banwari Trace and
Poonah Road sites of Trinidad, with dates
that go back to circa 7000 BP (Boomert
2000; Harris 1976). These have also been
unearthed from pre-Arawak contexts in
Martinique (Allaire and Mattioni 1992:63),
the Virgin Islands (Lundberg 1989), Cuba
(Febles and Baena 1995; Kozlowski 1974),
Haiti (Rouse 1960; Rouse and Moore 1985)
and the Dominican Republic (Veloz
Maggiolo 1980).

In Puerto Rico, Alegria et al. (1955)
were the first to document the presence of
this artifact type in their excavations at the
Cueva Maria de la Cruz site located in the
northeastern part of the island. Additional






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


work in pre-Arawak sites of the island lead
to the recovery of edge-ground cobbles in
coastal sites (Figueroa 1991; Veloz
Maggiolo et al. 1975), as well as in inland
rock shelters (Davila 1981; 2003; Martinez
1994) and open air locations (Ayes 1988;
Figueredo 1976; Febles 1996; Tronolone et.
al. 1984). In Puerto Rico, most pre-Arawak
sites have been ascribed to the Corosan
Ortoiroid subseries, and it has been agreed
that the "Edge grinders are diagnostic of the
subseries." (Rouse 1992:66).

Edge ground cobbles also have been
found in early Ceramic Age sites of Puerto
Rico (Rodriguez 2001; Rouse and Alegria
1990; Walker 1985), leading Pantel
(1986:49) to argue that "the pebble grinder
can be regarded now as a preceramic and
early Hacienda Grande ceramic phase tool."
The finding of these implements in early
ceramic contexts served as evidence for
Pantel (1986) and Rouse and Alegria (1990)
for the acculturation of Archaic peoples by
the Saladoid immigrants, or of "trait
borrowing" from the former by the latter.
However, I have recently identified edge-
ground cobbles in early Ostionoid contexts
(Rodriguez 2002) as well as in sites dating
to the latest manifestation of this series
(Rodriguez 2003a). This, along with the
continuities that were observed in other
segments of material culture, lead me to
argue that the persistence of Archaic
technological traditions in post-Saladoid
contexts might indeed indicate that some of
the styles that have been observed within the
Ostionoid series reflect the remains of
developed-Archaic societies (Rodriguez
2003b).

Even though the culture-historical
implications of this artifact type have been
widely discussed in the Caribbean, there has
been a general scarcity of studies of the uses
that these implements were subjected to.


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


Rodriguez Ramos


Alegria et al. (1955) originally proposed that
these were used for seed grinding, a notion
carried over from Willey and McGimsey's
(1954) interpretation of Monagrillo
materials. Almost three decades later,
Allaire and Mattioni (1983) indicated that
the most likely use that edge-ground cobbles
served was as woodworking tools, perhaps
associated with the manufacture of canoes.
Since Allaire and Mattioni's work, most of
the interpretations regarding this type of
artifact have been limited to the motion in
which it was used. Walker (1985:186)
estimated that these materials "were used in
a very uniform motion, probably held with
the wider side of the tool facing the user and
moved towards and away from the worker
on a hard surface." Lundberg (1989:110)
shared this view, and considered that these
were "used on a concave surface or
manipulated with rocking motions."
However, none of these authors provided
estimations about the material that was
processed with this type of implement.

The most influential interpretation in this
regard has been that provided by Ranere
(1975). He conducted archaeological tests
aimed at reproducing the facetted margin of
this type of tool, based on the wear observed
in materials recovered from several Chiriqui
River sites in Panama. During his work he
was able to produce a ground facet in a
cobble by grinding tubers. This lead him to
hypothesize that this type of artifact was
used for processing root crops (Ranere
1975:204). This interpretation seems to
have been partially supported by the
microbotanical and stone residue analyses
conducted in sites where edge-ground
cobbles have been found. In Panama, the
remains of a variety of tubers (e.g., manioc,
lerMn, arrowroot, sweet potato and yams,
among others), have been found in the
facetted margins of these tools as well as in
the surfaces of milling stones over which






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


these were supposedly used (Piperno and
Holst 1998). Both edge-ground cobbles and
milling bases also showed starch grains from
maize and legumes. The presence of starch
grains from sweet potatoes, arrowroot, and
legumes was reconfirmed in the analysis of
materials from the San Isidro (Piperno and
Pearsall 1998:200) and the sites peripheral
to the Porce River (Castillo and Aceituno
2000) of Colombia.

The initial tests carried out by Ranere to
asses the function of this type of implement
have profound implications regarding not
only the probable use of this type of artifact,
but also the introduction of cultigens to the
tropical forests of Panama and other parts of
the Intermediate Area. However, the
published descriptions of the experimental
procedure that lead to his conclusions have
been quite general, thus limiting the
replicability and the comparability of his
results. In order to expand on Ranere's
methodological approach to the replication
of this artifact type, in the following section
I will provide specific information about the
experimental procedure that was followed
and the objective and effective materials that
were used.

Analytical Procedures
Objective Materials
It is commonly argued that in use-
modified lithic artifacts, the type of raw
material and its original morphology are the
criteria of primary importance in the
selection of objective pieces for their
intended functions. As a result, a survey of
the existing literature of similar implements
from the Antilles and the Circum-Caribbean
area was conducted in order to determine the
average dimensions, morphology, and raw
materials that were mostly represented in
edge-ground cobbles. As previously noted,
the most common types of raw materials
selected were river rolled meta-volcanics,


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


Rodriguez Ramos


including mostly, but not limited to, basalt,
andesite, rhyolite and diorite. Their
morphologies tend to vary from ovoid to
triangular in shape, and their dimensions
mostly range between 3 to 6 cm in
thickness, 6 to 12 cm in width and 8 to 16
cm in length. Due to the fact that these were
handstones that were used without any
intentional modification to their original
morphology, cobbles with comfortable
shapes were procured from the Rio Espiritu
Santo in northeastern Puerto Rico by
archaeologists Jeff Walker and Elvis
Babilonia, based on the aforementioned
attributes (Table 1).

Effective materials
As indicated earlier, the selection of the
materials to be processed was derived from
the previously cited results of the starch
grain residue analyses (Piperno and Holst
1998; Piperno and Pearsall 1998). Two of
the identified tubers were processed in the
present experiment: manioc and sweet
potatoes. Commercially available manioc
(Manihot esculenta) was used in this study.
Even though a distinction has usually been
made within this tuber species based on the
amount of prussic acid that it contains,
namely the bitter and the sweet varieties, as
has been noted previously (Cobley 1979;
Coursey 1973; Nye 1991), such
differentiation has no real taxonomic value
as the acid content in these tend to be highly
variable even within a single crop. Also, as
indicated by Sturtevant (1968:179), even
when differences in toxic content have been
cited, their "toxicity is not associated with
morphological features of the plant." This
lack of formal morphological distinctions
has also been observed in the sweet potato
(Ipomea batata), as its variations are based
primarily on its color and appearance, which
depend upon "the amount of carotenoid
pigments present in the skin and flesh, and
the presence or absence of anthocyanins."






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


(Redhead 1989:45). The type used in the
present study is the commercially available
"orange" variety.

The selection of the type of maize (Zea
mays) was more complex as, unlike the
tubers previously described, corn types tend
to present marked variations dependent upon
the differences in the chemical compounds
deposited or stored in the kernel (Adams
1999). In the present case, dry feeding or
"ear corn" was selected for processing due
to the lack of availability of indigenous
maize varieties. According to Bressani
(1992:2), the kernels of this type of maize
"have a thick, hard and vitreous endosperm
surrounding a small, granular, starchy
center."

Finally, another aspect worth
considering was the selection of the partner
implement over which foodstuffs were to be
processed with the edge-ground cobbles. In
Puerto Rico, most of the edge-ground
cobbles that have been uncovered lack any
direct association with milling stones or
metates, leading some investigators to
suggest that these were used over wood
boards, which are absent in the
archaeological record because of their lack
of preservation (Rodriguez 2001; Walker
1985). However, the discovery of one of
these stone bases in the same feature and
stratigraphic unit as an edge-ground cobble
in the Paso del Indio site seems to indicate
their related use, thus leading me to process
the different foodstuffs over a meta-volcanic
milling stone. Also, in Panama a milling
stone/edge-ground cobble complex has been
identified based on the co-occurrence of
these two artifact types (Ranere 1975;
Piperno and Holst 1998). Similar starch
grains have also been recovered from the
milling stones that have been found in
association to the edge-ground cobbles, thus
providing additional evidence for their


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


Rodriguez Ramos


combined use (Piperno and Holst 1998). A
single mid-grained basalt boulder (length=
268.2 mm; width = 115.3 mm; thickness =
78.0 mm; weight = 7600 g ), which showed
similar dimensions to that obtained from the
Paso del Indio site, was used throughout this
study in order to control the variability in
wear traces which might have been
produced by the use of different contact
surfaces.

Use Motion
The replication of the use to which edge-
ground cobbles were submitted was based
both on ethographic and ethnohistoric data,
as well as on previous indications derived
from the wear traces observed in this type of
tool. It should be noted at this point that the
lack of detailed descriptions that exist in the
ethnohistoric and ethnographic literature of
simple food processing techniques,
especially when complex strategies are
observed in the same contexts, put severe
limitations on the development of methods
that mirrored those employed by indigenous
societies. Thus, the techniques that were
employed for processing these materials
were highly intuitive and were aimed
primarily at producing an edible paste from
the different foodstuffs that were used.

Sweet potatoes and manioc were peeled
and macerated in their raw state. This
decision was based primarily on the fact that
I think that it is very unlikely that this
pronounced facet is produced by mashing
boiled or baked tubers, specially when one
considers the hardness of the raw materials
that were commonly selected for use as
edge-ground cobbles. Also, there is
ethnographic evidence from northern South
America of the processing of raw tubers by
pounding and grinding in order to produce a
paste that could later be cooked by different
methods (e.g., Brinez 2002; Chagnon 1977;
Lancaster et. al. 1982; Lowie 1946; Metraux






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


and Kirchhoff 1963). For instance, Chagnon
(1977:35) indicates that among the
Yanomami, "sweet manioc, a root crop that
is boiled or refined into a rough flour by
grinding it on a rock and then converting the
flour into thick, round cakes of baked
cassava bread." Another example of the use
of pounding of raw tubers for their further
processing was provided by Metraux and
Kirchhoff (1963:356) from the Andean
Veneluezan Chake, as they observed that
they "pound manioc, mix it with water, and
heat it in a calabash placed among hot stones


Rodriguez Ramos


until it coagulates."

Both sweet potatoes and manioc were
initially split lengthwise along their fibers
with the tool's most pointed end, and then
individual tuber fragments were pounded
and ground perpendicular to their fibers,
which seemed to be the most efficient
method of reducing the tubers to a pulp
(Figures 2 and 3). Similar to what has been
done by Ranere (1980a: 125), pounding was
followed by dragging the material to the
center of the milling stone. However, in


Figure 2. Manioc processing sequence.


Figure 3. Sweet potato processing sequence.


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


contrast to his approach in which the mass
was "drawn towards the user", in this case I
collected the material in any direction that
was necessary in order to accumulate it in
the center of the base for its further
processing, but always in a motion
perpendicular to the widest portion of the
tool in order to maximize the amount of
paste that was recovered in each dragging
operation.

The selection of a specific method for
processing maize was more difficult than
that used for tubers due to the vast array of
ways in which it could have been processed,
as is documented in both the ethnographic
and ethnohistoric records. For instance, in
one of the most cited Spanish chronicles of
the Greater Antilles, Las Casas (1927:262)
indicated that maize "was consumed tender
or wet, as a soup with water." On the other
hand, Oviedo (1959:15) observed in the
Tainos of the Dominican Republic that
"when the ears are tender they are eaten
almost as milk", but he then indicated that
these were roasted and eaten without further
processing. Oviedo (1959:15) later
observed in Cape Tiburon of El Darien that:

The Indian women grind it, with the
full strength of their arms, in a
concave stone with another round
stone which they hold in their hands,
just as painters are accustomed to
grind their colors. As they grind,
from time to time they pour in a little
water which mixes with the meal.
This produces a paste-like dough. A
small portion of the dough is
wrapped in a leaf which is used for
this purpose, or in a corn husk, or in
some other leaf. Then it is placed in
the coals of a fire and baked. The
dough becomes firm, takes the color
of white bread, and a crust forms on
the outside.


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


Rodriguez Ramos


This type of processing seems to be
appropriate for the production of the meal
used in the confection of guanimes, a
tamale-like food that was supposedly
consumed by the Taino peoples of the
Greater Antilles and whose name is Arawak
in origin (Hernandez 1977:212).

In the present experiment, maize was
soaked in water for 24 hours prior to its
processing. This decision was partly based
on the results of preliminary tests aimed at
deciding the most efficient method in which
grains could be processed over flat milling
stones. After grinding dry kernels it quickly
became evident that these would be very
difficult to process over a borderless base
because they jumped out of the milling stone
when pounded due to their lack of
confinement, although in the present case
this could have resulted from the limited
size of the stone base used in this study and
my limited expertise in corn processing. It
also became evident that it would be much
more efficient to grind maize with the faces
of these cobbles instead than with their
margins, as more grains could have been
impacted by each blow. Furthermore, the
soaking of corn for its later processing has
been observed among indigenous peoples in
the Circum-Caribbean area such as the
Emberu of El Darien (Isaacson 1984), who
are one of the groups living closest to the
location described in Oviedo's account.
After soaking, water was slowly added to
the kernels while pounding them into a paste
following a process similar to that described
by Oviedo, with a use motion that mimicked
that used for processing the tubers (Figure
4).

Each tool was used for a total of 12
hours, with observations about alterations of
the use margins or any other salient feature
being recorded at two hour intervals,






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


Figure 4. Corn processing stages.


although in cases where a discernable
modification was observed in less time, it
was recorded then. Two of the experimental
cobbles were used to process manioc,
another one maize, and the final one was
employed on one side to process sweet
potato and the other maize. During the
experiment, the peeled tubers and maize
grains were weighed before and after
processing. For microscopic analysis, the
protocol adhered to that developed by
Adams (1989, 1999, 2002) for determining
wear patterns on grinding tools. Each item
was hand washed with tap water, and was
then analyzed using a low magnification
approach, varying from 10X to 70X. The
wear patterns that were observed on the
experimental specimens were then compared
to those in the archaeological materials from

Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


the Paso del Indio site, which served as
the artefactual baseline in this study.

Results
Facet formation
In all specimens, detectable
modifications were observed after
processing both tubers and maize for a
couple of hours. Invariably, I observed
that the most intense modifications
were registered in the first two hours of
work in the form of smoothing in the
areas of higher elevations of the tool's
use surface (Figure 5). In the remaining
time an intensification of the grinding
or polish wear and the definition of the
facet was observed. However, some
differences were noted regarding the
quickness in which a discernible facet
was formed while processing the
different types of materials, as well as
in the intensity of the wear that was
observed. In the case of tubers, the
processing of both manioc and sweet
potatoes took similar time spans to
create visible alterations in the tools,
although a discernable facet was created
in each specimen at different time
intervals. In the siliceous tuff specimen
(#2), the facet was created after 2 hours of
work, while in the andesite cobble
(specimen 1) it was observed after 3 hours.
In the basalt cobble, although some
smoothed wear was also observed after the
first two hours of work, a clear facet could
not be produced even after the entire 12
hours of work. The wear observed in the
three specimens used to process tubers was
smooth, but none presented polishing of
their use surface.

In the case of maize, marked alterations
were observed in the specimens after their
use for merely 15 minutes in the form of
surface smoothing. In specimen 3 a
noticeable facet was observed after just one


Rodriguez Ramos






Rodriguez Ramos


The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble





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rUr -
MAC-:r


Figure 5. Specimen 1 unmodified (top) and after four hours of use (bottom).


and a half hour of work, while in specimen 4
no complete leveling of the use surface was
produced even after the complete 12 hours
of work had elapsed. This difference seems
to be related to the original morphology of
the use surface, as the one in specimen 3
was much more angular than that in
specimen 4, which presented a more square
outline. Both of these experimental
specimens were made of basalt, and thus
raw material hardness could be eliminated as
a source of variation in the time taken for
the formation of the facet, thus probably
indicating that the original morphology of
the use surface plays a major role in the time
it takes for the creation of a discernible
facet. It should also be noted that in
specimen 4, the grinding wear of the side
used for corn processing produced a brighter
polish than the one employed to pound
sweet potatoes. This could be a result of
different factors, such as the higher silica
content of maize, which serves as an
abrasive agent during the grinding process.
Also, the use of water when creating the
paste and the oil contained in the kernels
might have served as lubricants that
increased the frictional energy of these
materials, thus producing higher degrees of
sheen (Adams 2002:36).


In general terms, it seems clear that the
pounding that these cobbles were submitted
to served as an indirect pecking mechanism
that normalized the overall shape of the
tool's use surface, while the grinding and
dragging refined its morphology. The
unidirectional orientation of the striations
that are observed macroscopically were
caused, not by a reciprocal movement as
been previously suggested, but from the use
of the tool always with its widest part facing
the processed material so more mass could
be collected in each dragging episode. I also
noted that the pitted attrition that is observed
on the ends of these tools tended to be
produced by the initial splitting of the
tubers, which created a wear similar to that
observed in pecking stones. The use of the
ends of the implement did not seem to be
necessary in the processing of maize, as the
initial pounding of the grains was done more
efficiently with the use margin.

Another observation has to do with the
reasons for the formation of a convex use
surface when seen in cross section.
Previously, it was argued that it was caused
by the rocking motion in which these
artifacts were used, which ground the use
surface evenly during each stroke.


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


- r






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


However, it rather seems that this
morphology resulted, at least in part, from
the accumulation of material at the center of
the use surface during pounding which
served as a protective coat, thus limiting the
severing of this portion of the use surface.
On the other hand, the collection of the
processed material with the tool slightly
slanted towards the direction of dragging
tended to abrade the sides of the working
surface, thus resulting in its convex
morphology. This would also explain why
the striations are more clearly visible near
the corners of each facet than in their center
(Figure 6). Also, visible polishing was
formed in some of the specimens in the
areas were these were being held.


Rodriguez Ramos


activity and thus the duration of each food
processing episode might have been
extended with tools of higher comfort level.
This might explain the general homogeneity
in forms that are observed in this artifact
type in different contexts.

Finally, it should be noted that the
grinding base suffered some alterations
during this process. These were limited
exclusively to grinding wear in the center of
the piece as well as some pocked
depressions, most likely being produced
during the pounding of the processed
materials. No discernible concavity was
produced in the contact surface of this base
after the 60 hours of work.


During pounding, several flakes were Microscopic traces
detached from the corners of the working At the microscopic level, the analysis of
facets, especially from the fine-grained wear traces did not prove very useful as no
siliceous tuff cobble. The dangers of the specific wear patterns could be directly
detachment of small flakes from brittle associated with each of the different
materials while producing the paste could processed materials. All of the artifacts
explain the preference of basic rocks over showed similar striations when observed
materials with conchoidal properties for under the microscope, irrespective of the
their use as edge-ground cobbles. It should foodstuff that was processed. As previously
also be noted that comfort must have been noted, these striations were mostly
major criteria for the selection of these unidirectional, although some randomly
cobbles for use, as this is a rather strenuous oriented ones were also noted. Even though
g. T the more marked striations were
observed in the corners of the
S- facets, some faint ones were also
noted in the center of the tools,
MO especially when these occurred
over phenocrysts (Figure 7).

In addition to the striations,
it was also observed that most of
the grains of the facetted
margins were worn flat,
providing the surface with very
leveled microtopography,
although in some cases the
interstices could still be
Figure 6. Corner striations in specimen 2 (10x). observed. These interstices do


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


not seem to have received much alteration,
as most of them presented a rough angular
surface. This, however, was not the case in
the siliceous tuff specimen (#2), in which
the grinding leveled all of its grains, thus
erasing the interstices and reaching the
matrix of the rock.

Impact fractures were also observed in
the use surface of edge-ground cobbles in
the form of detached chips of material.
These were rather shallow and tended to be
confined to the central portion of the use
surface, due to the fact that this was where
the most forceful strokes were recorded
during the pounding of the materials.

Unfortunately, when compared against
the archaeological specimens no specific
patterns could be discerned, as these showed
high degrees of weathering thus masking

^*R8L-..r7


Figure 7. Unidirectional striations in experimental
(top) (specimen 3) and archaeological (bottom)
(PDI-1.4208) edge ground cobbles (10x).


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


Rodriguez Ramos


their microscopic use signatures. However,
most of them presented striations oriented in
a direction similar to that observed in the
experimental specimens, thus showing that
at least their kinetics were similar (Figure 7).
In most cases, the grains were also worn out,
although this seemed to vary in the different
artifacts depending on their raw materials,
contact surfaces, and probably also on the
amount of time in which these were used.

The limitations for isolating specific
wear traces associated to each of the
processed foods might be surpassed in the
future with the use higher magnification
microscopy, which might show discernible
patterns that are otherwise invisible at the
level of analysis used in this study. Also, a
more representative archaeological and
experimental collection of edge-ground
cobbles as well as a better trained eye for
identifying specific types of wear could
immensely benefit the identification of
specific use marks in the future. However,
the fact that these are multifunctional
implements should always be considered in
their use interpretations, as this character
definitely complicates the definition of the
specific type of materials) that was
processed with each edge-ground cobble, as
will be discussed below.

Discussion
As previously noted, the purpose of the
present experiment was to determine if the
processing of two types of tubers and maize
could result in the formation of the
distinguishing facet that is characteristic of
the artifact type known as the edge-ground
cobble. At the macroscopic level, this
experiment corroborated Ranere's (1975)
initial observations that tuber processing
might produce the flattened ablation of the
use surface that is characteristic of these
implements. However, it expanded on his
observations by showing that such use






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


alteration can also be created by the
processing of maize, in this case in its
soaked form. I recognize that the number of
tests that were made in the present
experiment are too limited to represent a
statistically valid sample. However,
hopefully this study promotes future
experiments with these and other use-
modified materials in the West Indies, which
might shed some light on their possible role
in food processing practices in pre-Colonial
times.

It is also evident that many variables
might come into play and account for a wide
range of variability in the formation of both
microscopic and macroscopic wear
expressions in these tools, and that perhaps
the processing of almost any type of
foodstuff following similar kinetics over a
comparable contact surface as that used in
the present study might result in the
facetting of their edges. Furthermore, it
should be noted that this experiment only
explored one of the many possible food
processing strategies in which these tools
could have been used and thus additional
testing is required to characterize the
differential wear that may be created by
changing the combination of raw materials,
foodstuffs, and processing techniques, since
any of these might produce distinct patterns
in the archaeological specimens.

As previously mentioned, the fact that
these items seem to be multifunctional
definitely limits the definition of a single set
of wear expressions associated with this tool
type, especially at the microscopic level.
The multipurpose character of this type of
implement becomes evident when one
analyzes the results of starch grain analyses
that have been conducted on those tools. For
instance, from the facet of a single edge-
ground cobble from Colombia, Piperno and
Pearsall (1998:200) and Gnecco (2000:131)


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


Rodriguez Ramos


indicate the presence of starch grains
representative of at least three different
types of tubers, grasses and legumes, while
other from Panama had residues of two
different types of tubers, and yet another one
contained phytoliths from arrowroot as well
as maize. Therefore, these results seem to
show that a single tool was used to process a
wide array of materials and that the micro-
wear that will be observed in these
implements will most likely be evidencing
the last use to which these were submitted.
Also, the common evidence of other use
traces in these implements such as nutting
and percussive wear, as well as the presence
of red pigments (probably ochre) in the use
margins of some of these specimens, signals
the fact that these could have been submitted
to other functions besides the ones explored
in the present study such as pigment
production and wood-working, among
others.

Other uses which might have created
these facetted edges have also been
suggested in contexts culturally unrelated to
the Circum-Caribbean area as well. For
instance, Sims (1971) has reported "edged
cobbles" from sites in northwestern
California and has associated their use to
hide processing. On the other hand,
Crabtree and Swanson (1968) mentioned the
use of similar items in the preparation of
platforms for blade manufacture, while
McGimsey (1956:156) indicated that edge-
ground cobbles were related to "the
preparation of large quantities of shellfish
for consumption." All of these are possible
alternatives that need to be considered
further and definitely show that any cobble
tool whose margin is submitted to a similar
use motion over a hard contact surface
might produce a comparable facet.
However, it should be noted that, for now,
those three possibilities are very unlikely in
the Antilles because: 1) hide processing has






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


not been documented anywhere in the
Caribbean, where there were no hide-
producing animals; 2) these items have been
found in the Antilles in sites where no true-
blade production has been documented; and
3) no shell remains have been found in most
of the locations from which these
implements have been uncovered.

Notwithstanding the previously cited
limitations for defining a specific function
for this type of artifact, there are some facts
that show the importance to expand its
analysis in the West Indies: that the
processing of tubers and maize can produce
the facet that is characteristic of this tool
type; that the pounding of tubers and soaked
maize produces a perfectly edible paste; that
starch grains and phytoliths from
domesticated tubers and maize have been
found in the use surfaces of these tools in
related areas; that these implements are
restricted in the Circum-Caribbean area to
sites related to the Northern South American
Archaic Littoral Tradition; and that they
have been recovered from Ortoiroid sites in
the Caribbean, which have also been
associated to the Northern South American
Archaic Littoral Tradition. This line of
reasoning definitely raises the possibility
that some of the cultivars represented in the
aforementioned starch grain analyses were
introduced to the Antilles by the earliest
Archaic immigrants, and thus opens the door
to revisit some of the traditional notions that
had been in place in Caribbean archaeology
for almost a century.

First of all, regarding the introduction of
manioc to the Antilles, it has always been
presumed that in the absence of botanical
proof of its cultivation, its consumption can
only be evidenced on the basis of the
presence of cassava griddles and bipolar
grater teeth. This has lead to the prevailing
hypothesis that its introduction to the islands


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


Rodriguez Ramos


can only be traced down to the Saladoid
migration, which dates to circa 2500 BP.
This, at the same time, has been based on
the notion that the manioc variety that was
mostly consumed by those Arawak groups
was the bitter type and that, because of its
high level of cyanogenic glucoside, it
required complex processing techniques for
its detoxification. These complex processing
techniques include the grating of the bitter
manioc with grater boards to produce a
mass, which is then dewatered using a
cibucdn (a basketry squeezer) to remove its
poisonous juices, and is then baked in a
ceramic griddle to make cassava bread.
However, in addition to the problems
established by de Boer (1975) and Perry
(2002) for establishing a direct correlation
between the budares/grater teeth complex
with cassava bread making, it has been
argued that simple procedures such as air
drying, soaking, boiling, dehydrating and
pounding are efficient methods for reducing
the cyanide content of manioc to tolerable
quantities, and thus that the need for
complex grating, squeezing and baking
techniques are not essential for tuber
detoxification (Cobley 1979; Cooke and
Monduagwu 1978; Coursey 1973; Nye
1991; Roosevelt 1980). According to Cook
(1995:178) pounding also results in starch
release and aids to "reduce fibers inimical to
nutrient absorption". Furthermore, the
dewatering of the pounded paste does not
necessarily require the use of a cibucdn, as it
could have also been accomplished by
manual squeezing and wood pressing (see
Dole 1956 for a review; Rubin and Donalds
2003). Also, as has been demonstrated in
this study, the pounding of tubers results in
the production of a paste which could have
been turned into edible foods in a variety of
ways, such as bread, pellets or farihna,
among other meals (e.g., Chagnon 1977;
Levi Strauss 1946; Lowie 1946). All of this
shows the possibility that the introduction of






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


this tuber to the islands, either its sweet or
bitter varieties, might have preceded the
advent of groups which practiced complex
processing strategies of root crop
processing.

It should also be noted that in Caribbean
archaeology, the introduction of other tubers
were also related to the migration of pottery-
making groups, and that they were cooked
using only "simple" methods which
consisted of either baking or boiling them
(e.g., Boomert 2000:96; Sturtevant
1969:179-184). However, this study has
also shown that at least sweet potato can be
processed into a paste, which could have
been either mixed with other products to
impart them with a sweeter taste, or turned
into a bread as has been suggested by de
Jesus (1978) and Redhead (1989), among
other possible alternatives. In Puerto Rico,
specially in the Loiza Municipality, a meal
known as cazuela is still prepared
(Cabanillas 1973), which consists of a
mixture of sweet potato and manioc pastes
that are wrapped in leaves and then either
heated over a hot surface or boiled. Similar
processing techniques could have been
applied also to other tubers belonging to the
South American complex, as defined by
Sturtevant (1969:178), such as yautia
(.X- unitl, ,i nha sagittifolium), marunguey
(Zamia sp.), and lerMn (Calathea allouia),
among others.

In the case of maize, it is commonly
thought that the only ways in which it was
consumed in the West Indies was either
tender or roasted, and thus that "None of
these forms of consumption would require
the use of grinding equipment, further
underscoring the possibility that the
presence of grinding stones at Caribbean
sites may have little or no bearing on the
question of maize use at a particular site"
(Newsom and Deagan 1994:207). Ranere


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


Rodriguez Ramos


(1980a:125; 1980b:352) has also argued that
the use of edge-ground cobbles for making
corn flour is unlikely due to several factors
including the unsuitability of their working
surfaces for processing dry grains and the
predominance of roots in the dietary
composition tropical forest cultures, among
others. Based on my limited experience in
processing maize, I definitely concur with
Ranere that edge-ground cobbles do not
seem to be efficient tools for grinding dry
maize, and would add to his argument the
fact that the milling stones that are
commonly used in association to edge-
ground cobbles are not only flat, but usually
made of fine-grained materials which do not
contribute the rock-grit that aids in mortar or
metate processing. Furthermore, the
pecking that is usually applied to rejuvenate
the manos in order to increase their grinding
efficiency for corn-flour production is not
observed in edge-ground cobbles. All of
these observations seem to diminish the
possibility that these were used in flour
making although further testing is needed to
make that assertion, especially when
considering the morphology of the basin
metates used for corn flour making in the
southwestern United States (Adams 2002).

However, the present experiment has
shown that a paste from soaked corn could
have been efficiently produced with edge-
ground cobbles over flat faced milling
stones, thus adding another alternative to the
ways in which maize could have been
processed. Seeds such as primrose
(Oenothera sp.), among others, documented
in Archaic sites of the West Indies (Newsom
1993; Newsom and Pearsall 2003) could
have also been processed in a similar
fashion, probably resulting in a comparable
grinding facet. A similar observation has
been made by Adams (1999:500) based on
her experimental studies with materials from
the U.S. Southwest, as she stated that






The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


"flat/concave manos and metates were
designed to be more efficient tools than
basin manos and metates for processing oily
seeds, and that this design continued to be
useful after the introduction of maize for
processing soaked kernels." The corn paste
that was produced in the present experiment
could have been wrapped in leaves and
consumed either baked or boiled (e.g.,
Roosevelt 1980; Stone 1966), or used in
soups or beverages (e.g., Isaacson 1984;
Leigh 1983). In fact, as previously noted,
the ethnohistoric accounts from the Greater
Antilles make reference to the production of
guanimes, which are basically pellets made
of corn meal which are wrapped in leaves
and then boiled or baked, in a similar
fashion as that used in the confection of
cazuela.

Recently generated data seems to show
the possibility that some horticultural
practices were registered in the islands prior
to the migration of Saladoid societies. For
instance, charcoal and pollen profiles taken
in Puerto Rico and Vieques have indicated
the presence of humanly induced forest fires
probably related to swidden agriculture, as
early as 5300 BP (Burney and Burney 1994;
Sara et. al. 2003; Siegel et. al. 1999). Also,
the import of plants from extra-Antillean
sources such as yellow zapote and sapodilla
has been documented in Puerto Rico, which
according to Newsom (1993:322) were
imported from the Caribbean Coast of
Central America. Furthermore, maize
pollen has been found in the Dominican
Republic as early as 2000 BC (Fortuna
1981). The botanical data that has been
produced thus far, however, is too limited
yet to allow for any sound interpretations
and thus more studies are urgently needed in
order to have a clearer view of the plant-
humans relations in pre-Arawak times in the
Antilles.


Rodriguez Ramos


Even though this type of artifact is apt to
process a variety of foodstuffs, it seems to
have been of limited efficiency if it is
measured as "the amount of processed
material per unit of time." (Adams
1999:482). For instance, after 12 hours of
work I was able to process approximately 16
cups of soaked maize, which is well below
to the 2 cups per hour processed by Adams
(2002:69) in her experimental work (Table
2). However, these two figures are not
necessarily comparable as she ground
soaked maize for producing a coarse flour
while I pounded it to make a paste. Also,
many other variables might skew these
figures and make our results incomparable
including the shape, raw material, size and
weight of the utilized handstones, the size of
the contacting surface of the milling stone,
and the technical abilities in part of the
experimenter, which in my case were very
limited. However, in preliminary terms,
these figures could be indicating that this
artifact type might be related to tasks
associated to daily household consumption
instead of communal food preparation or
surplus production for storage. For instance,
if as indicated by Moscoso (1999:107), the
consumption of manioc per person was of
50 pounds per month (approximately 1.7
pounds per day), then the most amount of
paste that I produced in 6 hours could only
feed approximately 5 people.

However, other variables beside the
amount of processed food should be taken
into consideration for assessing the relative
efficiency of the edge-ground cobble/milling
stone complex when compared to other food
processing strategies. For instance, higher
degrees of relative efficiency could be
argued when one considers that it allowed a
variety of foods to be processed with a
singular tool kit, whose materials were not
only readily available but also easily
replaceable due to the ubiquitous occurrence


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005







The Function of the Edge-Ground Cobble


of suitable objective pieces in the islands
and the lack of investment in manufacturing
time.

This discussion on relative efficiency,
however, might have nothing to do with the
importance that was placed on this tool type
as part of the batterie du cuisine used by
pre-Colonial societies in the West Indies.
The role of this type of implement, as well
as others, should also be viewed in terms of
a set of cooking preferences exercised in the
confection of different types of foods, whose
recipes were handed down from generation
to generation. This might explain the
intensity of the facetting observed on some
specimens, which seems to indicate that at
least some were used for extended periods
of time. In this light, the persistence of this
lithic artifact in post-Saladoid contexts
needs to be examined beyond the mere
functional or culture-historical aspect as it
could indeed be showing the prevalence of a
culinary repertoire whose origins go back
well into the initial chapters of West Indian
pre-Columbian history, some of which still
lives in our food making traditions today.

Conclusion
Even though this study did not provide a
definitive answer to the question of how the
edge-ground cobbles were used, hopefully it
served to demonstrate that this tool could
have been employed for processing tubers
and grains, and that it helped to raise the
possibility that these were introduced to the
Caribbean prior to the Arawak expansion
from South America along with a set of food
producing and cooking practices. This
possibility will not be falsified until
additional microbotanical studies are
conducted and until detailed analyses and
experiments on use modified lithic materials
are carried out, which thus far are almost
non-existent in Caribbean archaeological
literature. More than half a century ago


Journal of Caribbean Archaeology 5, 2005


Rodriguez Ramos


Alegria et.al. (1955:120) stressed the
importance of this type of implement for
establishing the areas of provenience of the
first inhabitants of the Caribbean. Now, the
need to put careful attention to these
"simple" tools needs to be stressed again as
they might hold the clues for such complex
questions in West Indian archaeology as the
introduction of cultigens and multiple
cuisines to the islands.

Acknowledgements. This work would not have been
possible without the help and support of many friends
and colleagues. First of all, I would like to thank Jeff
Walker and Elvis Babilonia for procuring the cobbles
used in this experiment and for their excellent
comments during the course of this work. I would
also like to express my gratitude to Jaime Pagan who
shared his extensive knowledge on the use of plants
and the botanical literature of the Antilles and
Circum-Caribbean areas and patiently answered my
many questions. Also, I want to thank Ken Sassaman
and Anne Cordell for allowing me access to the
equipment used to conduct the usewear analysis.
Additional comments provided by Anthony Ranere,
Antonio Curet, Jose Oliver, and William Keegan
were also instrumental in the production of this
paper. Finally, I would like to thank Peter Schmidt
for his continuous encouragement in making this
study possible and for his comments on the initial
manuscript. Even with all that help there should still
be some meti 'as de pata in this work, and those are
entirely my own. This material is based upon work
supported under a National Science Foundation
Graduate Rresearch Fellowship.

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