A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistoric (particularly Stone Age) cultures that have become extinct. Archaeologists often study such prehistoric societies, and refer to the study of stone tools as lithic analysis. Ethnoarchaeology has been a valuable research field in order to further the understanding and cultural implications of stone tool use and manufacture.
Stone has been used to make a wide variety of different tools throughout history, including arrowheads, spearheads, hand axes, and querns. Stone tools may be made of either ground stone or knapped stone, the latter fashioned by a flintknapper.
Knapped stone tools are made from cryptocrystalline materials such as chert or flint, radiolarite, chalcedony, obsidian, basalt, and quartzite via a process known as lithic reduction. One simple form of reduction is to strike stone flakes from a nucleus (core) of material using a hammerstone or similar hard hammer fabricator. If the goal of the reduction strategy is to produce flakes, the remnant lithic core may be discarded once it has become too small to use. In some strategies, however, a flintknapper reduces the core to a rough unifacial, or bifacial preform, which is further reduced using soft hammer flaking techniques or by pressure flaking the edges.
More complex forms of reduction include the production of highly standardized blades, which can then be fashioned into a variety of tools such as scrapers, knives, sickles, and microliths. In general terms, Knapped stone tools are nearly ubiquitous in all pre-metal-using societies because they are easily manufactured, the tool stone is usually plentiful, and they are easy to transport and sharpen.