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The indigenous groups of the Caribbean developed extremely elaborate techniques for working with stone, which allowed them to produce both ritual and utilitarian artifacts. These techniques were closely associated with the kinds of raw materials that were used and the various methods of striking them. The methods of producing items from stone can be divided into three main categories: sculpting, chipping and polishing. The sculpting techniques were recorded from the first settlements in the Caribbean and were focused mainly on manufacturing cutting instruments such as knife blades and points for projectiles, among other items. This technique consisted of striking the edges of the stone to carve away small pieces and transform the stone into an object for a defined use (for example, a chopping block) or to use the pieces chipped away to make other items (such as chisels or files). The stone from which these small pieces were carved away is called the nucleus and those used for striking it are called the hammer. Metal was not used by the indigenous groups in the Caribbean to produce edge tools, so they used other materials such as stone and shells for cutting purposes. The stone most commonly used to produce sculpted artifacts in the Caribbean was flint, a raw material that was circulated over long distances, which shows its significant importance to those societies.

Chipping consists of reducing a stone through removal of surface material using another stone implement, whether a chisel or a pecking stone. This technique was used to produce petroglyphs as well as for shaping artifacts such as axes, the symbolic three-cornered stones and stone wheels, among other items. In many cases, this technique was accompanied by polishing, which consists of using a material with a rough surface to smooth the surface of the piece. When polishing is very intense, it is known as burnishing, which is observed in some artifacts such as the petaloid axes recovered from archaeological sites on the islands. Sand of varying coarseness was used as an abrasive agent for polishing. When combined with water, it allowed the removal of imperfections from the surface of the artifact.

An extremely elaborate technique of cutting rocks with a cord has also been documented in Caribbean settings. This technique consists of rubbing the stone using a fiber and sand in a series of holes to make cuts in hard rocks such as jade and nephrite. This technique has been documented in Huecoid settings in Puerto Rico and Vieques and was used to create spaces in the interior of pendants that were shaped like birds of prey (Andean condors) and were produced from rocks such as jade and serpentinite.

Author: Reniel Rodríguez Ramos
Published: January 07, 2012.

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