#FlintFriday | Do you Tweet? Join this weekly ritual

If you’re a Twitterer and ‘into’ archaeological lithics and flint, why not join the weekly #FlintFriday celebration of beautiful flint—as well as good fieldwork, recording, curation and sharing? Do you have a favourite in your local museum or archive?*

This week’s latest from @microburin

Microlith_EMDC_TeesFFT

Spence

*Please always ask permission to take photographs, and a scale is useful! Always report finds to the landowner (who remains the legal owner), the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and Historic Environment Record (HER) or seek advice | See useful contacts and links »

Remember: if an artefact isn’t accurately recorded, it’s lost its context and much of its meaning for everybody else.

Mesolithic Forum | Don Henson hosts a discussion at University of York (Youtube)

Don’s PhD research questions whether the Mesolithic exists, how it has been perceived and how public perceptions might be influenced, developed, nurtured—more so now that “Prehistory” is part of the National Curriculum for the first time.

So what is the Mesolithic? What other words does “it” invoke?

  • Youtube recording (slides not visible but audio is good), approx. 1hr 4mins »
    12 March 2014

PS, devil’s advocate would be to replace the functional-typological-technological epithets implied in “lithic”. One could just as well say “-dendritic”, “Antler Age”, the “Age of Harmony and Synergy”, “Hazelnutique”, “Materiality”? Oh, good grief. However, I really do agree that the “period” is tantalising and stimulating, perhaps “just beyond reach” as was mentioned.

Good to hear Harry’s and Pat’s voices, humour and inquisition.

Spence

St Swithun’s cycle | Mesolithic press | CBA Yorkshire’s FORUM journal v2

Been a bit quiet on here? Microburin has been living out his own kind of St Swithun’s (or Swithin’s) cycle—forty days* in an alter ego role as Hon Editor of an archaeological journal. The Council for British Archaeology Yorkshire Group’s annual journal, FORUM Yorkshire, is about enter the second year in its new, refreshed format.

The ‘forty days’ allegory reflects this last cycle of pulling together 180 print pages for volume 2 (2013)—twelve substantial articles, seven archaeology notes, a book review and archaeological register of some commercial activities in the fine county.

*St Swithun’s day is mid-July, but hopefully you follow my drift?

The reason for bringing this up here, other than the feeling of exhilaration towards the ‘end game’ and the desire to smell brand new printed paper (a lifelong predilection), is that my friend, mentor and collaborator Paul R Preston accepted an invitation to write for the journal. Paul is director of Lithoscapes Archaeological Research Foundation, a not-for-profit venture focused on all things prehistorically lithic:

‘Lithoscapes is an innovative, educational non-profit organisation established in 2012. As a think-tank, we research, promote and educate on best practice related to the study of lithic artefacts and assemblages, their recovery, analysis, preservation, conservation, archival storage, display and publication.’

Research agendas and new frameworks

Paul’s paper, one of two with a central Mesolithic focus—the other deals with the Late Glacial palaeoenvironmental context of a Bos skeleton from Flixton, Vale of Pickering—is important and precedes publication of his full doctoral thesis (Preston forthcoming) that deals with the Central Pennines, due later this year. With permission, here’s his FORUM abstract:

‘This paper aims to present an overview of recent research on the Mesolithic lithic scatters in the Central Pennine area. In particular, it aims to exemplify a new analytical and interpretive approach to these lithic scatters by outlining—on a broad level—the new methodology, themes and conceptual links between the artefactual evidence (including the chaîne opératoire model), and hunter-gatherer behaviour. The main conclusions are summarised including a radically new narrative that intimately links prehistoric lithic consumption and tool use with Mesolithic mobility strategies, and settlement patterns in Northern England. In doing so, the author also hopes to highlight the need for a radically different methodological and paradigmatic approach to the recovery, study and recording of the lithic heritage of the Pennines and beyond.’ – Preston (2013)

There’s more in FORUM Yorkshire

cbaylogoThere are two thematic areas in particular where I believe this second volume provides new insights and reflects trends not catered for in more formal periodicals. Firstly, I set out with an intention to showcase the growing success of community-based archaeological projects. At a time where academic-based research funding is waning, the Heritage Lottery Fund and other grant-based outlets have transformed the ability of local groups to explore their archaeology and heritage in well-planned, inclusive and entirely voluntary ventures. These inspiring projects have a canny knack of bridging between traditional stakeholders—academic institutions, commercial practices, museums and archives—to build a compelling enterprise that would be the envy of any individual party. I’m  pleased that a number of such (and often award-winning) project practitioners have also contributed here in a way that future, formative groups may learn from.

Secondly, this volume reflects a readerships’ desire to know more about the behind the scenes aspects of archaeological practice and related disciplines that seldom see, by function of their inherent complexity, a presence in more traditional periodicals—in terms of the principles, methods and human processes involved.The papers by a distinguished artisan pottery expert and by the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) will give a background to the skills (and challenges) involved and the ongoing learning process that we might otherwise not appreciate.

How do you get hold of FORUM Yorkshire?

Reserve your copy* by joining CBA Yorkshire—the student rate is £5 with the Journal! We operate a ‘green level’ Open Access policy which means that the previous volume becomes available online at no charge once the new edition is published in hard-copy print. If you want to write for FORUM Yorkshire, simply contact me at my other self: forum-editor@cba-yorkshire.org.uk.

ARCHAEOLOGY FOR ALL!

FORUM Yorkshire vol 2 (2013) is now at the printers and will be available in early April 2014, at which point vol 1 becomes available online (via ISSUU, ADS and our website). ADS archives will be in  PDF-A format, the accepted standard for future-proof archives.

Spence

PS: More White Gill Mesolithic Project news is coming soon as the final suite of radiocarbon dating for this amazing site gains a grant funder (to be announced).

References

Preston, P.R. 2013. New Perspectives and Suggested Directions for Future
 Research on Central Pennine Mesolithic Lithic Scatters. Archaeological Forum Journal: CBA Yorkshire 2, 1–20.
Preston, P.R. Forthcoming. MESO-Lithics, Landscapes and Mobility: Towards a New Research Framework. BAR British Series. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Ryedale Folk Museum | Archaeology returns

Gallery

This gallery contains 21 photos.

One of my favourite museums in the north of England is the Ryedale Folk Museum in the beautiful village of Hutton-le-Hole on the southern flanks of the North York Moors. It actually sits at the boundary of the high moors—a … Continue reading

Raw beginnings | Lithics from landscape

Building a Lithics Raw Material Reference Collection

Dear microburins,

Lithics Raw MaterialsI’ve set myself a little extra project for 2014 in between storm surges and pluvial interludes, in an attempt to get outdoors more often, into the beautiful English landscape, leaving the loupe magnifier and calipers in the lab. One of the fascinating aspects of Mesolithic research in northern Britain is the potential offered by a huge diversity of lithic raw materials present, to differing degrees, in early prehistoric chipped stone assemblages.

NYM Assemblage diversity

High level view of lithic diversity in Late/Terminal Mesolithic assemblages, North York Moors uplands. The unusual stuff is at the top. This gets even more interesting when one looks at the earlier Mesolithic and lowland river valley assemblages.

Natural Roughage

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head

Natural geology, exposures and erosion, yield flint, cherts and other lithic types that were exploited in early prehistory—the period after the rapid melting of the glaciers that scoured most of our landscape until around 11,000 years before present (BP). Glacial boulder clays, tills and gravels have carried lithics huge distances from their primary sources—agates, quartzite, porphyry and other knappable or modifiable materials added to the array. Rivers and marine turbation subsequently move materials through the seascape and landscape into secondary deposits, some still accessible, others masked by later alluvial and colluvial sedimentation. Rising sea levels have also removed some primary sources from human reach, causing changes to past procurement strategies.

What’s your flint like, then? “Well, it’s browny-grey, greyish brown, beige, a bit fawn, more grey than off-grey, blackish but also deathly white, reddish pink, gingery-orange, yellowish-green, a bit rough, shiny sometimes, cherty, when its not smooth, speckled, mottled, blemished, streaky—nasty-but-nice.” I’m glad I asked.

Un-natural agencies

Durham Coast

South Durham Coast

All things are seldom equal. The third dynamic in this story is, of course, human agency. The most obvious, and closest, raw material source for the manufacture of stones tools—as we might see it today—often contradicts what we find in the archaeological record. Lithics move long distances in various forms: nodules and pebbles, pre-tested cores ready for reduction, pre-prepared blade and flake “blanks” ready for transformation into a variety of finished tool forms, and finished tools ready for the job in hand, all of these sometimes “stored” or cached for later retrieval—we find them because that intention was not always realised.

River Swale

River Swale at Topcliffe

When one looks at the natural agencies that yield raw materials, the source locations, native geology, the detail of glacial advance and retraction (and unglaciated areas), offshore geology—it’s more than evident that raw materials are often many tens, sometimes hundreds of kilometers from the places where they enter the archaeological record, and that these patterns seem to change over time. If extrapolated as a proxy for human mobility in a changing environment from the tenth to fourth millennium BC, tundra to dense woodland with extreme climatic interludes from time-to-time (like the 8ka event that lasted a couple of centuries, windy, cold and dry; the odd tsunami), a fascinating picture emerges.

Not From These Parts

Teedale

Upper Teesdale

By small example, considering the Mesolithic lithic assemblages of the North York Moors and catchment areas, some hard truths must be grappled with:

  • Flint and cherts are not present in the natural base geology; the closest primary deposits are in excess of 40km to the south from the chalk deposits of the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Wolds and offshore east of Flamborough Head, chert-bearing limestone deposits in the Pennines are more than 40km away too.
  • The uplands south of the River Esk (entering the North Sea at Whitby) were not glaciated in the last Late Devensian glacial episode, and so there are no glacial deposits in the immediate vicinity.
  • Glacial movements were from the east across the North Sea and south and south-eastwards from the Pennines down the Vales of Mowbray and York, each leaving boulder clay, till deposits and a characteristic post-glacial topography.
  • Hence flint and occasional erratics such as Chalcedony-Agates occur along east coast beaches, but with differing north-south characteristics; Pennine-derived cherts in river gravels and till 20km or more to the west, in the upper reaches of the Tees and Wear Valleys, or in primary outcrops some 40-60km or even more distant; some characteristically stained flint may derive from Humber-Trent Basin gravels over 100km away.

    Meso Scraper Chert

    Mesolithic black chert scraper from the banks of the Tees, Wynch Bridge Upper Teesdale, with Tim Laurie

  • Not all lithic material is equally suitable for knapping/working: there are choices to be had. Flawed flint, for example, is extremely difficult to work consistently and predictably (time spent knapping); nodules of varying size and quantity are present in different locations (time to procure, energy to transport); cherts similarly have differential “knappability”; quartz and other materials do not fracture conchoidally. Furthermore, are there additional “choices” being made around raw material colour, texture or even source (memory and significance of place)—there are some North York Moors assemblages that comprise a greater proportion of brightly coloured flint such as deep reds—happen-chance or preference (sensu Cummings 2011). “Blood red”?

So what are these raw materials, often present only as finished tools (e.g. chert without knapping debitage), doing on top of the North York Moors? How, why, where and when were they being procured—perhaps even being exchanged?

Raw Research

Upper Esk Valley

Upper Esk Valley

Little of what I am writing here, in brief, is especially new although the detailed, metrics-based scrutiny of Mesolithic assemblages as part of my own research is adding granularity and opening up some interesting questions.

The luxury that lithic raw materials afford archaeologists in northern England, by virtue of their range, variety and multiple sources—some conflated, others distinct—is well recognised and has formed the basis of many dynamic, sometimes conflicting, seldom concluded arguments (Lovis et al. 2006; Barton & Roberts 2004, 349-50).

Flamborough Head

Glacial till above the chalk cliffs at Flamborough Head

Many researchers, past and present, have been frustrated in their endeavours by enduring challenges such as an on-going inability to find distinctive, reliable geo-chemical signatures (e.g. from Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry) that tie raw materials to precise primary or secondary source locations, recognising some progress with chert sourcing, e.g. Evans et al. (2007). There is, for example, no commercial driver (oil, mineral or potash prospecting) that would focus secondary attention on the karstic deposits that contain flint and chert. Compare this with the archaeological and geo-morphological advances that have successfully leveraged geological prospecting on the North Sea bed and Doggerland over the past three decades.

Humber

The vast Humber Estuary

Additionally, inconsistencies in identifying and cataloguing raw material types in both archival records as well as formal publications (as recognised by Young 1984; 1987;  and Spratt 1993) leads to only generalised observations and likelihoods. Lastly, and acknowledging the biases involved in analysing contemporary primary and secondary sources, a systematic recovery and descriptive regime over time, space and sample, might add objective comparative data around the yield of, and accessibility to, different resource locations as a working benchmark.

A Year Outdoors

Yorkshire Coast

East Cleveland Coast

And so, dear microburins, off to the wonderful shorelines of the east coast of Yorkshire, Cleveland and Durham I head, from the Humber to the Wear by way of Holderness and Filey. The Vale of Mowbray beckons, with the washlands of the rivers Swale, Ure, Nidd and Tees towards the upper reaches of the Tees Valley with its dramatic outcrops of Whinstone sill—the same igneous event that extends to the Northumbrian Farne Islands. Look out for a kindly chap with either multi-coloured buckets or a deer hide back-pack, a stopwatch, GPS, geological hammer and my favourite tweed cap. Oh, and always a trowel. Two, in fact.

Limpet or I shootAnd it would be great to take some friends and volunteers along too!

Spence | lithocapes.co.uk

References

Barton, R.N.E. & Roberts, A. 2004. The Mesolithic period in England: current perspectives and new research, in A. Saville (ed.) Mesolithic Scotland and its Neighbours,339-5. Edinburgh: Soc Antiquaries Scotland.
Cummings, V. 2011. A view from the outside: some thoughts on the research priorities for Mesolithic and Neolithic lithic studies in Britain and Ireland. Lithics 31: 68-77.
Evans, A., Wolframm, Y.B., Donahue, R.E. & Lovis, W.A. 2007. A Pilot Study of 'Black Chert‘ sourcing and implications for Assessing Hunter‐Gatherer Mobility Strategies in Northern England. J Archaeol Science 34(12): 2161‐2169.
Lovis. W.A., Whallon. R. & Donahue, R.E. 2006. Social and spatial dimensions of Mesolithic mobility. J of Anthrop Archaeol 25: 271-274.
Spratt, D.A. (ed.) 1993. Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North-East Yorkshire. CBA Res Rep 87. London: CBA.
Young, R. 1984 Potential Sources of Flint and Chert in North-East England. Lithics 5: 3-9.
Young, R. 1987. Lithics and Subsistence in North-Eastern England. BAR British Series S161. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Burglary

The Trauma of a Second Burglary told by a Lithicist

Web_pic_off03 As some of you may know, the Lithoscapes* “South” lithics lab in London NW2 was broken into again—this time on Christmas night at 1am, the second time in six months. I rent office space to execute excellence in lithics protocols, which includes laying out all the pieces from regional (North Yorkshire) Mesolithic assemblages—thousands of flints and a few chert artefacts thrown in.

*The Lithoscapes website is presently being built by your own dearest. There will be shock and awe at the Durham Wild Things conference next week.

Web_pic_off08So, in a peaceful and analytical space, when somebody decides to break in, kick your door in, and you have thousands of lithics laid out, what and how do you feel?

Panic? Yes. Everybody in my office block, laden with valuable laptops, gadgets, servers, cameras, media equipment, asks me. They look at me knowing, now, that two decades of work would be destroyed. Tiny bits of stone rendered meaningless—that’s why I love my leased office colleagues.

You cannot insure lithics. They have no commercial value. They are our enduring eyes and ears, by proxy, into the Mesolithic. Silence. I then, usually after a burglary, tell the story about what they mean. Jaw dropping awe.

Web_pic_off01This second time, the “juvenile” was recorded squashing his face against a CCTV camera. He jumped in through a window, a 3m drop. He then let himself in and out. The first burglar is now in prison—meaning we are now being targeted. Our doors are being repaired and thickened, the windows barred. Who would have thought that Lithics could garner such an interest? I suspect it’s the gadgetry in the other office units. Be proud of me? Why? I am the first leasing Tenant to voice concerns as to why our security is so faulty, our doors not thick enough, alarms do not sound, security never turns up, and asking why our rent is going up again by 5%.

My Babies

Are my babies safe? Layered out on their B&Q polystyrene sheets? Yes. For now. But this is one London gang-land trauma too far. Our own local, three streets away,  Christmas Eve “domestic” shooting incident kind of resonates. I mean: you have a domestic moody, get a bit upset, yet you have a….gun? How so? London.

Hard Hammer?

Beware my hammer—the soft or the hard option. A little flint trepanning to follow? I’m so sorry for the holes in your head.

Audit Trail

To be clear, the only items of no value in the Lab are:

  • A USB set of calipers;
  • A USB set of digital scales;
  • One of two mag loupe glasses (my dearest remains around my neck all times, how dare you ask);
  • A USB kid’s 200x microscope (which performs better than most science labs: yes 200x!);
  • Rotring pens and a miserable amount of permatrace, plus duct tape;
  • A 20 sq m poly sheet which is the 1:1 site plan for entertainment purposes
  • Lots of boxes and a million ziplock bags;
  • A strange bag of charcoal;
  • Several pairs of surgical rubber gloves and a white smock: don’t…don’t..but I do things proper, envy my C14;
  • My litter bin, for posterity.

Let me get my hands on the pathetic thugs. But listen? If you have been let down by family, by schools, by governments, by everybody—what do you do? If the Uber Rich never pay their taxes—why should you care?

My burglary is a function of the System, stupid. The System is stupid.

What it all means for the burgled is quite a different story—those that stole my mam’s heirlooms in 1986 should fry in hell for a very long time. Social victims, I’m sure.

You destroyed a memory. You destroyed trust. You took something you will never have, nor ever understand.

Spence