Tektites are not new to humans, only the understanding of their significance.
Their uses really fall into two categories
1) Magical, mystical stones with special powers. This is still ongoing with many cultures attaching significance to these stones (both in the West and the East). People believe that tektites bring good luck, guard against bad health or even treat illness! I'll perhaps discuss this in the future from a pre-historical, historical and present day perspective. Suffice to say that I don't believe in any mystical power of tektite. Given the extremely destructive mechanism of creation, it surprises me they bring good luck. Humans alive at the time of the Australasian impact would have had a very bad day indeed!
2) The use of tektites as tools. Tektites, like terrestrial obsidian, flint, high-grade cherts, and other highly siliceous rocks/minerals can be crafted into extremely sharp tools.
Tektites crafted into tools
My interest in this subject arises from my twin brother. He is an Archaeologist and lithics expert. He is also an expert flint knapper and can make tools (arrows, axes, blades, etc.) out of flint, obsidian and even beer bottle glass. You can't tell them apart from the genuine article (well he could, but I can't). He has just completed his Ph.D and suggested that we should do something on tektites and their use by man. His webpage is www.flintwork.co.uk.
Some of the 'greats' in tektites had their routes in archaeology. They found these curious tektites on archaeological digs and became interested in them. This is what started Henry Otley Beyer's interest in Philippine tektites. Von Koenigswald, famous for his work on the Java Man (now classified as Homo Erectus) also found (probably reworked) tektites in the same deposits in which Java Man was found. The tektites came from the uppermost Trinil layers at Sangiran in Central Java, 18 km north of Solo. It is interesting to read in New Scientist that 'sand' particles attached to the fossils date Homo Erectus in Java to 1.6 to 1.8 million years. I am really interested to know the precise association of these fossils with tektites (was Java Man found amongst the tektites or stratigraphically below where the tektites occur?). If the fossils were found in sediments containing tektites they must be around 780,000 years old or younger. A false age may be obtained from the 'sand' grains in volcanic ash, which may have formed from explosion and pulverization of older rocks. Here's another interesting site on Java Man. An interesting subject, worth following up with some future research.......
Wherever tektites are, man has used them. Documented cases of tool-making include:
Libyan Desert Glass - blades found were described by Clayton, P. A. and Spencer, L. J. 1934. Libyan desert glass was also regarded as a jewel in Ancient Egyptian times, with LDG being used as a Scarab's body in Tutankhamen's Tomb.
Moldavites - Found in an archaeological context and used to make tools and in jewellery. Neolithic flaked moldavites were first described by Palliardi in 1897. Today Moldavites are highly prized in jewellery.
Philippinites - Flaked artefacts described by Beyer, particularly from the Pugad-Babuy and Santa Mesa Sites, Manila. These days tektites are still regarded as good luck charms, not surprising given their close association with gold-bearing alluvial deposits.
Javanites - As mentioned above, tektites from Java have been found in association with Homo Erectus, although I do not believe any were reported to have been made into tools.
Australites - Made into tools by aborigines and described by Cleverly, W. H. and Cleverly, E. I. 1985 and also many others. Australites were also used as magic stones by aborigines.
Chinese Tektites - Again more research required, but certainly artifacts have been found in association with tektites in the Bose Basin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The question is 'are the tektites in situ or are they reworked into younger sediments?'
Indochinites - Indochinites have certainly been used in tool making, but I need to research into this further.
Georgiaites - Rare tools have been recovered. An article by Hal Povenmire is available online - click here. Hal also wrote a paper on the subject in 1975 and in 2002.
Bediasites - I'm sure I've heard of tools being found, but cannot confirm at the moment.
ABOVE Late Neolithic or 'Pre-Dynastic' blades made from Libyan Desert Glass. From Clayton, P. A. and Spencer, L. J. 1934.
It is evident that tektites have been used for tool-making in every single strewnfield (except perhaps the Ivory Coast strewnfield). I wonder whether these tools were particularly treasured or significant - where these tools transported to other regions outside of their strewnfields? As tektites are often in geographically restricted areas, study of the transport of these stones may allow for a better understanding of ancient trade routes.
I hope to get my twin brother to work on some low-grade Indochinites and see how easy they are to work with - are the tools better or worse? easier or harder to make? The extremely rapid cooling of tektites leaves internal stresses and strains, which I would imagine influences tool making processes.
More to come on this interesting subject! This is just a preliminary page.
Here are some tektites and archaeology references:
Akerman, K. 1975. The use of australites for the production of implements in the western desert of Western Australia. Univ. Qsld. Occasional Papers in Anthropology. 4: 117-123.
Baker, G. 1957. The role of australites in aboriginal customs. Memoirs of the National Museum of Victoria. 22: 1-23.
Barakat, A. A. 2006. A Tenth Century Reference to the Libyan Desert Glass. Meteorite Magazine. 12 (1).
Barton, R. F. 1946. The religion of Ifugaos Memoirs of the Am. Anthrop. Ass’n. 65 (on pp. 39, 77, 125 footnote, there are interesting references to tektites as buga, or ‘magic-stones, among the Ifugao medicine-men of Northern Luzon).
Basedow, H. 1905. Geological report, etc. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia. 29: see p.89. (refers to use of Australites by the Australian natives).
Berg, G. von, and Berg, A. von. 2003. Manmade Artifacts of Tektite Glass. Meteorite Magazine. 9 (1).
Beyer, H. O. 1934b. A brief account of the Pugad-Babuy tektite-bearing site, of southwestern Bulacan Province, Luzon. In: Beyer, H. O. 1961-1962. Philippine Tektites: Volume 1. University of the Philippines Publications in Natural History and in the new field of Space Science. Part I (Paper No. 6): 112-130.
Beyer, H. O. 1936b. General notes on the Kubao tektite site (with map). In: Beyer, H. O. 1961-1962. Philippine Tektites: Volume 1. University of the Philippines Publications in Natural History and in the new field of Space Science. Part II (Paper No. 9): 87-126.
Beyer, H. O. 1936b. General notes on the Santa Mesa tektite site.
Beyer, H. O. 1947. Outline review of Philippine archaeology by islands and provinces. Phil. Jour. of Science. 77 (3-4): 205-374. (numerous references to tektites).
Beyer, H. O. 1948. Philippine and East Asian Archaeology, etc. Phil. Nat. Reserch Council. (Manila; Dec 1948). Bull. 29 (references to flaked tektites, esp. pp. 13-14).
Beyer, H. O. 1954. The Relation of Tektites to Archaeology. National Research Council of the Philippines, University of the Philippines.
Beyer, H. O. 1955. Additional Notes on Tektite Lore. (Multigraph Publication), Manila, 1st Nov. 1955.
Busick, R. 1937. Rizalites- Philippine tektites- with a description of the Pugad-Babuy site. Michigan Academy of Science., Pap. 23: 21-27. (Also special reprint, 1938).
Červený, T. and Fröhlich, J. 1990. Archeologické nálezy vltavínů. Sbor. 5. Konf. o. Vltavínech (České Budějovice 1987): 39-45. (In Czech)
Clayton, P. A. and Spencer, L. J. 1934. Silica-Glass from the Libyan Desert. Mineral. Mag. 23: 501-508. Also in Barnes, V. E. and Barnes M. A. (Eds.) 1973. Benchmark Papers in Geology: Tektites. Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Inc * http://www.minersoc.org/pages/Archive-MM/Volume_23/23-144-501.pdf
Cleverly, W. H. and Cleverly, E. I. 1985. Destruction of Australites by aborigines in part of the Eastern Goldfields, Western Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia. 68: 1-8.
Cleverly, W. H. and Dortch, C. E. 1975. Australites in archaeological sites in the Ord Valley, W. A. Search. 6: 242-243.
De Michele, V. 1998. The “Libyan Desert Glass” scarab in Tutankhamen’s pectoral. Sahara. 10: 107-109.
Edwards, R. 1966. Australites used for aboriginal implements in South Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum. 15 (2): 243-250.
Fenner, C. 1939. Blackfellows’ Buttons, the remarkable glass meteorites of Australia. The Sky – Magazine of Cosmic News. 3 (VIII), 16-17 and 27. (possible reference to Aboriginal usage???)
Gill, E. D. 1965b. Quaternary geology, radiocarbon datings, and the age of the australites. Geological Society of America, Special Paper. 84: 415-432. *
Hassell, E. 1936. Notes on the Ethnology of the Wheelman Tribe of South-western Australia. Anthropos. 31: 706-707.
Hildebrand, A. R., Moholy-Nagy, H., Koeberl, C., Senftle, T., Thorpe, A. N., Smith, P. E. and York, D. 1994. Tektites found in the ruins of the Maya city of Tikal, Guatemala. (Abstract). Lunar and Planetary Science. 25: 549-550.
Johnson, J. E., 1963. Observations on some aboriginal campsites in South Australia and adjoining states, Part I. Mankind. 6 (2): 64-79.
Johnson, J. E., 1964. Observations on some aboriginal campsites in South Australia and adjoining states, part II. Mankind. 6 (4): 154-181.
Mitchell, S. R. 1949. Stone age craftsmen. Tait Book Co. Pty. Ltd., Melbourne, Australia.
Palliardi, J. 1897. [no title – paper on Neolithic finds in Moravia and Lower Austria – flaked Moldavites]. Mitt. d. praehistor. Kommission de Kon. Akad. Wiss. en Wien. I (4): 249.
Povenmire, H. 2002a. Georgia tektites worked into artifacts by the Indians. Ohio Archaeologist. 52 (1): 23.
Povenmire, H. 2002b. Georgia tektites worked into artifacts by American Indians. Central States Archaeological Journal. April: 70-71.
Povenmire, H. 2003. Georgiaites Worked into Artifacts by Early Man. Meteorite Magazine. 9 (1).
Povenmire, H. 2004. A Georgia Tektite Worked into a Projectile Point. Meteorite Magazine. 10 (4).
Povenmire, H. and Cathers, C. L. 2004. A Georgia tektite worked into a clovis type arrow point. 67th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society. Abstract #5012. * http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/metsoc2004/pdf/5012.pdf
Roe, D. A., Olsen, J. W., Underwood, J. R. and Giegengack, R. 1982. A handaxe of Libyan Desert Glass. Antiquity. LVI: 88-92.
Shoemaker, E. M. and Shoemaker, C. S. 1997. Dispersion of stones by human transport: a solution to the enigma of australite ‘strtigraphic ages’. EOS Transactions, Spring Meeting. April 27 1997 (Suppl.): 201.
Skutil, J. 1949. Pravěké nálezy vltavínů (= Archaeological finds of moldavites). Vlast. Věstn. Moravský. IV (3): 1-8.
Trnka, M. and Houzar, S. 2002. Moldavites: a review. Bulletin of the Czech Geological Survey. 77 (4): 283-302. Praha. * http://www.geology.cz/bulletin/contents/2002/vol77no4/04trnkafinal.pdf
Warnes, P. N., Orchiston, W. and Englert, P. A. 1998. A reported tektite transported from Australia and found at Gabriel’s Gully mining camp, Central Otago, New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand. 28 (2): 329-331. * www.rsnz.org/publish/jrsnz/1998/16.pdf
Yamei, H., Potts, R., Baoyin, Y., Zhengtang, G., Deino, A., Wei, W., Clark, J., Guangmao, X. and Weiwen, H. 2000. Mid-Pleistocene Acheulean-like stone technology of the Bose Basin, South China. Science. 287: 1622-1626.