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"Reproduction or Replica?"

Unpublished 12/31/99


What is the difference? A repro­duction is a copy of any artifact which simulates or resembles the original, or may vary slightly from it; but to the ordinary person may or may not be recognizable as some form of copy. A replica is an exact duplicate of a real artifact in which the flaking patterns, styles and materials used by ancient people are carefully copied as to size and appearance. Many modern crafts­men make reproductions and replicas. It's only when the reproduction or replica is altered by some means after completion to make it appear ancient and authentic that the artifact becomes a "fake".

The making of a "Fake" can go through a series of processes. Subjecting the reproduction to acids, oils, tumbling and/or sandblasting can mask the distinctive appearance of new work. The most common method is to coat the new surface with a deposit of soil or chemical stain. One must always be suspect of high spots that show wear through coatings. Patination is difficult, but not impos­sible to duplicate. Acid can be used to etch the surface and oil can be used to darken the etched surface.

Knapped surfaces always have retain remnants of the work called hinge flakes which can if ancient; trap dirt and stains beneath those which remain in position. Few artifacts pass through time in a pristine condition. The use and wear from the original maker plus the forces of erosion, shifting of the earth and other physi­cal changes cause varying degrees of wear on prehistoric tools. Artificial wear is different from natural wear. Signs of use such as cutting, scraping, polish, impact and so forth leave their mark on ancient artifact. Reworking the tool by primitive man was a nec­essary part of everyday life. Most modern reproductions represent items lost without having been in service. Metal tool marks are characteristic on modern works and typically found in notches. Many modern knappers uti­lize most of the raw material by slab­bing with a diamond saw. Flakes removed on flat slabs tend to ripple heavily and terminate by diving into the blade. This is often prevelant on modern fluted reproductions.

The amount of retouch on a tool is a measure of tool use and rejuvena­tion. Ancient people rarely allowed a tool to be discarded without it having been used and altered many times. That's the reason that many replicas and reproductions are obvious as they show no sign of use.The perfection of a given artifact is what is most appealing to the majority of investors.

Ancient heat treating of stone was designed to make it workable without harm to its planned function. Improving flaking quality by modern heat treating of stone often produces colors too gaudy to be accepted as genuine.


Heat treat­ing while enhancing the color of the flint material, often make it too glassy, and knapable but weakens the stone beyond necessity.

Alterations sometimes appear out of place like ground off areas or sawn faces. Obviously the maker was care­less or in a hurry. A reproduction is simply using eye-catching materials and mere similarities to the original pattern with noticeable discrepancies. Whereas when re-creating the origi­nal process, the product becomes a replica. The accuracy of the crafts­man in matching the original pattern determines the skill of the knapper.

Artifacts out of place within col­lections should be a warning to the viewer that something is incorrect. A particular artifact from a given area should look like similar artifacts from that same area in terms of material, shape, style and most importantly; the appearance of age of the artifact. All tools of a given assemblage will age in similar degrees as they have been subject to the same environmental conditions.

Of course, there are instances where due to unusual circumstances, a strange find is possible. For instance, Obsidian is native to the Rockies of the far west; but we know from scientific excavations that the Hopewell culture of the Ohio valley did in fact import some of this mate­rial and used it for special ceremonial items. A fanner some 7 miles south of Mound City ; Chillicothe, Ohio found the remnant of a Hopewell core of obsidian in his garden plot next to his house. Located within the adjacent twenty acres there were thirteen "Core" patches (places where cores were knapped for bladelets). Also within these confines were also found remnants of the blade working of crystal quartz. But this is the excep­tion, rather than the rule.

Persons who buy stone artifacts without knowing how to evaluate them are more likely to make a bad investment than a good one for there are far more replicas and reproduc­tions on the market than one might suppose. Many of them are difficult to distinguish from the ancient and genuine originals.

To understand ancient workman­ship a systematic approach is perhaps the best way. Although such method­ology may seem a pain, it sure beats being a victim. A first consideration should be style or typology. Be cau­tious with extremely large or small examples of any given type. Ask yourself whether the type is local to the region in which you are collect­ing. Then pay particular notice to the material from which the item is made. Is the source within reasonable dis­tance of the find. Then scrutinize the usage patterns (few are lost without some use). Are there signs of age that compare with similar pieces and types? Positive answers should be obvious. Consider if the price is appropriate for the quality of the arti­fact. Let the facts speak for them­selves!


“Used by Permission of the Author” and originally published in American Indian Artifacts; Genuine or
Reproduction by Col. John F. Berner. Copyright © 2000 by American Antiquities, Inc.