rocks and stones

Gwyn Alcock alcockg at SRICRM.COM
Wed Nov 19 21:55:39 UTC 2003

(Hadn't thought about this distinction, but I deal with it daily.)

There's popular use and then there's what people who deal with the stuff
professionally say. Not the same.

Yes, archaeologists use flaked stone, ground stone (or groundstone), and
worked stone as artifact classes, and describe types of tool stone (i.e.,
stone suitable for making tools), but both archaeologists and geologists
usually speak of rock types.

The material class is stone (as opposed to bone or ceramic),
the material type is rock (which includes obsidian, schist, granite, etc.).

Sorta typical sentence:
"The flaked stone tools [e.g., arrow points, scrapers]
were made of cryptocrystalline sedimentary rocks [e.g., chert, jasper],
but all the ground stone artifacts [e.g., mortars, pestles, beads]
were various igneous rocks [e.g., granite, vesicular basalt]."

The U.S. Geological Survey uses "rock", and rarely "stone." The examples
below are from the "Petrographic Terminology" section on page 98 in Wallace
R. Hansen (editor) (1991) _Suggestions to Authors of the Reports of the
United States Geological Survey_, 7th ed. U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, D.C. (289 pp.)

"Thus, a report on a mining district is hardly the place to introduce a new
rock name or to exhaustively describe all the rocks and thin sections that
have been examined."
"Nomenclatures of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks have not been
"Petrologists should be chary about proposing new rock names."

There are very few instances of the word "stone" in the entire book, and
those are in examples showing grammar problems, e.g.:
"The principal granite district of this group of States is at Salida,
Chaffee County, and is sold for monumental stone. (The granite, not the
district, is sold.)" (p. 152)

Stone seems to be used for the general substance, and rock for the specific
material. I'll try and find some unequivocal examples of what the individual
bodies of unworked materials are called, but I'll bet both stones and rocks
are correct.

Gwyn Alcock
Editor, archaeologist (analyst of prehistoric stone tools, and flint
Statistical Research, Inc.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
Of Peter A. McGraw
Sent: Wednesday, November 19, 2003 11:56 AM
Subject: Re: rocks and stones

Note that the mass use of both words brings out a [natural] vs. [worked]
distinction that seems to underly some of the comments so far: a "rock
wall" is something in nature that some people like to climb; a "stone wall"
is constructed of individual stones that have at least been moved and
assembled.  Similarly, a carved artifact is said to be made of stone, not
(at least in my experience) of rock.

Peter Mc.

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