Island Mesolithic | Late Mesolithic microliths from Isles of Scilly

◊ Dear Microburins,

TAS_Bulletin_19_2014_CvrWhile my head is down in editorial work – Teesside Archaeological Society’s annual Bulletin journal with 70 pages of regional wonder and CBA Yorkshire’s FORUM YORKSHIRE archaeological journal volume 3, my last as editor – I came across the AHRC-funded project “Neolithic Stepping Stones”, June 2011 to September 2014.

This builds on recent discoveries and more prospecting along the western coast of the British Isles and includes Late Mesolithic microliths recently discovered on the Isles of Scilly:

 

Isles of Scilly | Neolithic Stepping Stones Project (University of Reading, AHRC)
Stepping stones to the Neolithic: Islands, maritime connectivity and the ‘western seaways’ of Britain, 5000-3500 BC’ looked to five island groups and the surrounding seas for answers. These were the Channel Islands, Isles of Scilly, Isle of Man, Outer Hebrides and Orkney. “Another exciting find came from the Isles of Scilly dig, which unearthed a stash of around 50 microliths, tiny flint tools from the Mesolithic (pre-Neolithic) era. Rather than being of British design, these are in Belgian and northern French style. “That was very unexpected,” says Garrow. “It tells us that people were sailing between northern France, Belgium and the Isles of Scilly around 6000 BC. It’s a very good sign of pre-Neolithic maritime contact.”

Another outcome of the project is a book co-authored by Dr Garrow, Dr Sturt and post-doctoral researcher Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark. ‘Continental connections: exploring cross-channel relationships from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age’ (Oxbow) will be published by March 2015.

Scilly_microlith

One of the 57 Mesolithic microliths found at Old Quay in 2013 (photo: Hugo Anderson-Whymark).

The team have also produced a series of web resources drawing on the research, including a western seaways navigation game that works within Google Earth. And they used social media throughout the project – having such geographically dispersed participants made Twitter the perfect way to transmit updates.

Microburin’s Sites and Finds page has also been updated.

Spence

 

Bifacially speaking | TimeVista Archaeology is alive

TimeVista_Logo_BW2◊ Dear microburins,

It’s been brewing for a little while. Spurred on by successful paid work through this year, a burgeoning human network on LinkedIn, the time seems right to make a full commitment to archaeology. Now’s the time to draw a line between the past career and the palpably exciting prospect of doing what I’m passionate about. It’ll be an experiment, for sure, and I’m certain there are going to be some difficult moments. Will I be able to pay the bills? The notion of moving north, away from London, back ‘home‘, still needs fleshing out and number crunching. NThere’s the small matter of redecorating the house, new carpets and a new kitchen, the wild wood that is the back yard to tame — and the lovely memories to file away.

TVeye_sq1Nor does this all mean turning my back on twenty-odd years in the private sector. I’m seizing the chance to mesh together the skills and experiences gained in operational and project management with those of commercial archaeology. This is surely reflexive change management, difficult though I am as the patient / customer / opportunity. Procrastination is too easy. I’d regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t give it a try, extraordinary as it feels.

So, TimeVista Archaeology is the new professional shop front, leaving microburin as the informal loud hailer, perhaps conscience. There’s much still to do: I need to sort out my CSCS safety card (deconstruction skills), Chartered Institute for Archaeologists application (peer review or die) and, if I’m to engage with activities to support prehistory in the national curriculum, I probably need a good vetting too – there’s a kid still inside this yellow-hatted archaeologist, which is a start. Of the many realities of being in one’s forties is to realise (a) there’s no such thing as grown-ups; (b) it’s OK not to like jazz, allegedly; and (c) apostrophes’ and, commas are very important indeed.

That leaves me to thank you for your Microtalksupport, to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a rewarding, peaceful 2015, until next I holler from behind the spoil heap.

Spence | “good with archaeology”

TimeVista_Web05

Mesolithic silly season | Seals in the Tees

Dear microburins,

Mesolithic Spence (or The Mighty Microburin as DigVentures labelled my dorsal face, ha!) is back in London. The digging season, I’ve been away pretty much since June, is complete so that I can focus on commitments around the festive season: a few lithics reports to finish, fieldwork to write up, two journals to edit, somebody important to hug, readiness for the Teesside Archaeological Society (TAS) AGM in January, an endless list although the phone still rings with offers of commercial work. That’s good news. Clear the decks! My formative commercial presence, embodied in a website, is also nearly finished as I sit eying up mam’s rum-laden Christmas cake, exuding its rich and mind-altering odours, on the almost-too-high-to-reach (a legal high?) shelf. Heavens: I’ve already procured the Wensleydale cheese to accompany it.

TeesProjectLast week in the north-east was jam-packed and rich with opportunity. The River Tees Rediscovered HLF Landscape Partnership project kicked off its heritage & archaeology steering committee with a great scoping and idea-sharing session at Tees Barrage (literally in the barrage’s south tower) overlooking a seal, yes in the Tees, with a whopping fish in its mouth.

Saturday last saw the equally compelling AASDN (Durham and Northumberland Arch & Archs) day workshop, supported by CBA North and TAS, focused on the planning process and building stakeholders around ‘heritage at risk’ advocacy. It was fantastic to meet old friends, some throwback blasts from the past, and to make new friends too. I’ll write more about both very soon. I also wish all the candidates good luck for the Local Heritage Engagement Network officer (LHEN) at the Council for British Archaeology – interviews underway. Congratulations too to Tara-Jane Sutcliffe on her new role as Antiquity’s operational editor. I know she’ll be missed at CBA after a compelling and energised tenure there.

Durham day workshop on the planning process and heritage advocacy. I’m hoping we can do a Teesside-based follow-on session in 2015.

 

Meantime, my friend David Mennear, aka These Bones of Mine blogger, published another excellent post about the Bradford Uni Lithics Lab and lithics use-wear PhD research – as always an excellent and read. Likewise, another great friend Lorna Richardson has just published an insightful paper, based on her doctoral thesis (she is Dr Lorna now with bells on), concerning themes of authoritativeness, expertise, reputation and inclusion (or otherwise) in a social-media-mediated digital world. I highly recommend the read. And celebrate the fact that Internet Archaeology is a fully free open access journal – hurrah!

RFS_Tale_01Lastly, Clive Waddington published the popular book about Low Hauxley and the Rescued from the Sea project which completed last summer. It’s lovingly written, celebrates the community venture that made it all possible, certainly isn’t a dumbed down rendition of complex archaeology, and is beautifully illustrated – a bargain at £10 from the Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s website.

Hopefully I’ll come up for air soon, and perhaps I’ll see you at TAG (Theoretical Archaeology Group) Manchester later in December?

Spence

A very nice tweet indeed | Microburinesque Mesolithicology

Dear microburins,

Should this blog carry a safety message? ‘May contain burin spalls’? Meantime, Microburin is in north Northumberland on a commercial stint for a change. Be off with you, altruism!

CCCU_Twitter

Spence

About the microburin header image | Teesside oasis

Liminal Land of Moors and Cliffs, Molten Iron, a Sea of Ships and Turbines

Dear microburins,

cropped-image_emc_banner_overlay2.jpgA few folks have asked about the header image on this blog. The background image is a regenerating birch-ringed wetland on the Eston Hills, an outlier of the North York Moors overlooking the Tees estuary. The views extend northwards over industrial Teesport and Middlesbrough, with the petro-chemical industries, controversial gas power plant (and domino cascades of infuriating pylons because subsurface cables were too expensive for the North) that creates supercell plumes of artificial steam clouds which reflect the orange flares—so that it never gets dark on Teesside. The haunting glow can be seen from even the most secret dales.

Wiki Commons | CC | Stephen McCullockTo the north-east are the now-rescued blast furnaces on the coast near Marske and South Gare, with the offshore wind turbines providing a cocktail stick backdrop. As a kid, and even today, driving past the furnaces when they’re fired up is like witnessing a man-made volcano—hell, fire, molten iron and limestone—with its own esoteric and brutal beauty even if many wish it wasn’t there. Teesside is a 19th-century man-made contrivance. You can smell and taste it too. Farther north, the vista takes in Hartlepool beyond the nuclear power plant, Seal Sands (RSPB) and offshore prehistoric forests, where Heiu’s monastery was established on the headland in the AD 640s before being handed over to St Hilda by Bishop Aidan in 649, target for German shells and Eston Moor_wetland_to N_2010-08Zeppelin raids in WWI. On a clear day the view extends towards Sunderland on the Wear past the post-industrial, post-Scargill-and-Thatcher, limestone coast riven deeply by streams through lush woodland and wild flowers (e.g. Castle Eden Dene, an SSSI and National Nature Reserve).

To the south, the view is dominated by Roseberry Topping and the northern escarpment of the North York Moors and buttresses of the mighty Cleveland Hills. This was a glaciated wilderness down to the River Esk some 12,000 years ago, dotted with ice-locked lakes. It’s only modern pumps that keep lake Seamer, near Stokesley, manageable today. When the pumps break, the wetland returns.

(c) Yorkshire PressThe Eston Hills are effectively a parchment narrative, a peat-covered moorland island, upon which over 10,000 years of human activity are scribed. The hills are undercut with many 19th-century ironstone mines (the last only closed in 1949), industrial heritage, and graffiti. The tops reach their highest point at Eston Nab, once a Napoleonic signal tower set within a Late Bronze Age hillfort. Collared-urn burial mounds with cup-and-ring rock art peek through the heather. Prehistoric lithics, mostly of flint, attest to activity from the Early Mesolithic (Deepcar type) around the 9th millennium BC, Late Mesolithic (narrow blade technology), Early Neolithic (pressure-flaked leaf arrows and later oblique projectile points) through to late Bronze Age (barbed and tanged arrows, and thumbnail scrapers). Iron Age and later activity migrated to the more fertile lands at lower altitude—a testament to a combination of climatic and man-made events that, ultimately, formed the moorland landscapes we know today.

Microlith_EMDC_TeesReturning to the header image, the ‘monolith’ is one of the Early Mesolithic microliths found close to where the wetland picture was taken. It’s a broad blade obliquely truncated type with leading-edge retouch. Similar microliths have been recovered from neighbouring fields (now in different museum collections). We also have similar hints on regional promontories and escarpments such as Highcliff Nab above Guisborough and Danby Beacon. These were the first post-glacial re-colonizers of our ice-ravaged landscape.

The Mesolithic deer and hunter image is, I think, from Los Caballos in southern Spain although I do seem to have misplaced the original image.

Spence

Lithics selfie? | Rapid photography, decent results

Dear microburins,

I’m normally a night owl but, having collapsed in bed with a couple of archaeology journals at 10pm last night, here I am awake in the early hours. So I thought I’d do something moderately useful before the sun rises and the day unfolds. This post offers notes on recent experiences in photographing lithic artefacts – efficiently and cost-effectively – in a manner suitable for assemblage characterisation reports (‘grey lit’ and HER¹/PAS²) and archiving. There’s a shopping list at the end and an outreach, as always, for feedback and advice.

¹ Historic Environment Record (HER) | ² Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). OASIS is a publicly accessible portal for submitting archaeological and fieldwork records to the relevant HER, with documents/images uploaded to Archaeology Data Service (ADS) digital archives.

 Image | A bit of paraphernalia in the lithics lab for the blogtastic Day of Archaeology 2014.

A recent bout of lithics analysis needed some rapid, efficient and consistent images for the more significant pieces. The excavation-derived collection (not an assemblage per se) was in majority chert rather than flint – one of the fascinating aspects of prehistoric raw material consumption in north-east England related to availability in base and drift geology. The late glacial ice sheet dynamics and subsequent fluvial activity have created a jigsaw of knappable raw material types including limestone-derived cherts from the Pennines and various chalk-derived flint types from beds under the north sea, Scandinavia and farther south beyond the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire wolds. Flint remains readily available in east coast beach gravels, boulder clay deposits and some river gravels. Against this canvass, human mobility, most especially in the Mesolithic, provides for some interesting patterns in terms of what one finds where.

Photographic set-up

Images (below) | Top: Late Mesolithic flint microliths (narrow blade), Bottom: Side view of a Mesolithic chert core tablet.

MicrolithsI’m largely self-taught and results-driven when it comes to photographing lithics. I’ve experimented with black backgrounds and lighting configurations with some success. However, depth of field and pronounced shadowing for the more substantial artefacts have provided some challenges. Inevitably, a significant amount of work in image enhancement software is also needed, plus the addition of graphical scales (I use Corel because Adobe is too expensive). There can also be problems with darker coloured materials and especially the edges against a rather brutal black background. The results have been good, I think, but time-consuming. More on dark background specifications »

Lithic21sideWhat I now find is far more efficient and consistent is using an acrylic frosted block, the type you see in museums or retail displays. In diffused natural daylight the block lets sufficient light permeate around the base of an artefact to suppress excessive shadows – the object almost seems to float in a milky ether – and allows for a small enough aperture (high f/stop number) to counter blurring within the frame, or between the top of an object and the scale, such as with deep objects like cores, items with heavy curvature or a deep arête. Lighting can be tuned by raising the block on a clear acrylic stand or placing foil or white card underneath – much cheaper than using a lightbox (not very transportable) or augmenting with artificial lighting. By using a good quality photographic scale I’ve also avoided the need to overlay digital scale images, although this is easy enough to do. And if an object needs support, I actually find that soft silicone earplugs (like bluetack but colourless) work fine.

CCPS-3THaving a colour-correction scale has helped to maintain consistent hue/chroma results and I can, pretty much, adjust all images in a sequence using batch mode in photo/paintshop software, including corrections for barrel distortion (depends on your lens). The results feel good enough for archive/grey lit reports and need little extra work for publication-quality, as and when that becomes necessary. You can also combine objects, matched to scale, in a single merged image. You can’t really beat a good lithics line drawing but these remain open to the biases of interpretation – the eye of the penholder – and completeness in terms of what is included, excluded or emphasised. Drawing is subjective.

Mobility

The beauty of this toolkit is that it can all be carried in a small plastic storage box and set up pretty much anywhere that’s suitably lit, perhaps excepting the lighting equipment which I keep in the lab. Office/fluorescent/tungsten lighting is challenging but can be neutralised/compensated for with camera settings (or manipulating raw file images).

Specification

So here’s the set-up I am operating. I’m absolutely open to advice and suggestions too. Supplier information is offered in good faith without any implied endorsement or coercion. It’s just good stuff, well-priced (although the camera and macro lens are relatively expensive – try second-hand if you don’t have one), and it works. I hope the following is pragmatic and useful:


The lithics selected for photography were photographed to display their dorsal and ventral faces, and additionally to give a side or platform view when required. Each image included a metric 50mm scale and true-colour correction panel. The lithic was placed on an opaque (frosted) acrylic display block and photographed in partially diffused natural light with the following equipment and settings:

  • Camera: Canon EOS 450D SLR with remote shutter release
  • Lens: Canon EFS 60mm f/2.88 macro lens
  • F-stop: f/14 (small aperture)
  • Exposure: 1/6 second
  • ISO speed: ISO-400
  • Focal length: 60mm
  • White balance: Auto

I’ve not needed artificial lighting yet but assuming gloomy winter days:

  • Professional photographic lighting (2x 300 Watt opal, filtered white, lateral, no fluorescent overhead) | Calumet, see shopping list below

Images were uploaded as JPEG files and colour-corrected using Corel PaintShop Pro X5 software against the true-colour panel (batch processing was cross checked). TIFF files are also appropriate and an accepted format for long-term archives. The images included in the written report are compressed at 220dpi resolution, the maximum permissible in Microsoft office applications³. Original unmodified JPEG images have been retained; RAW files were not generated due to their large file size and memory requirements although archive retention is recommended.

³ For MS Word or Powerpoint, go to File > Options > Advanced and click the “do not compress” box before saving to PDF or PDF-A (Archive).


rapid-shoot Examples

Lithic13dorsal  Lithic21platform KIP14_Lithic13ventral  Lithic21base

Left: Late Mesolithic quadrangular (rhomboid) chert microlith, dorsal and ventral views | Right: Mesolithic chert core tablet, platform and base views.


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Spence