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


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.


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


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.


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.


2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


Photography, Diplomacy and Grub | 1986 archaeology on a moor in Yorkshire

Dear Microburins.

Danby RiggI was flipping through some old (scanned) pictures from the prehistory of my archaeological past and thought you might enjoy these. It’s 1986 throw-back time, the second season investigating the Bronze Age upland landscape on Danby Rigg in the beautiful Esk valley on the North York Moors.

Aerial photography | On-site diplomacy | Sectioned lunch

The Bronze Age triple dykes subsequently radiocarbon dated to the Viking period, which was a surprise. The Durham University project included re-examination of a Bronze Age ring cairn with a large monolith, proving it to have at least one cremation burial.

Ring cairnThe landscape survey plotted the entire network of field systems and cairns hidden under the heather—certainly one of the most comprehensive surveys of its kind in north-east England, and executed before the advent of GPS or Total Station technology, but we did have an EDM. This was all dumpy level and back-sighting. I’m proud to be able to set up a theodolite in five seconds, while sleeping!

There is a tenuous Mesolithic connection in that, on the long walk up to the moor each morning, Microburin discovered a small Mesolithic assemblage at relatively low altitude. It included some blades and a scraper with edge gloss from processing plant materials, but no microliths. A large Mesolithic core was, inevitably, lying at the bottom of the deepest Viking ditch (residual). It’s a bit like the “token” sherd of Roman Samian Ware (posh dinner service crockery) found most other places, no matter what period you’re digging.

AF Harding Danby RiggHarding, A., Ostoja-Zagorski, J. 1994. Prehistoric and Early Medieval Activity on Danby Rigg, North Yorkshire, Archaeological Journal 151, 16-97.

The plans and sections are mostly mine, but some cheeky rascal got the credit.


Blogging Archaeology | Movember +/- 1 BP | Why do I blog?

blogging-archaeology-e1383664863497When you get a personal email from anybody called Doug Rocks-Macqueen, summut’s up?

Dec 3 Update | Read Doug’s amazing summation of Blogging Archaeology round 1, and discover the next set of questions! »


CarnivalDoug is orchestrating a carnival, a virtual event, about blogging in archaeology #blogarch. Now, I’m under no illusion that this will be anything like an ethereal Notting Hill Carnival, on my door step every August. For one, the aroma of weed will not pervade our space here, allegedly. For two, you will not see me dressed in exotic regalia, even if I’m writing this post as my alter ego in a thong (please read on, I am no a Methodist). However, in the lead up to the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) 2014 conference, Doug has invited the network of archaeological bloggers to explain their motives, to be held to account for their, our, post cards in time, about time, about people who study dead things through time. Each month there will be a new theme, a new question, a whole new month of introspection and conscience-divining.

This month’s question, the one I have missed by a short standard deviation around my norm, is twofold:

Why did you start to blog? (You fool);

Why (in the name of some divinity) do you still blog (or not)?

PS. I know BP is AD 1950. Imagine, today, it was Doug’s deadline, yesterday.

Even Bill might get confusedWhy, Spence, why? – Love, Bill.

The honest truth is that I almost didn’t. There are a few layers of personal history in a rather strange life-trajectory that give context to the genesis of microburin.com, and a visible portal to nobody, in April 2012.

The undelivered pizza

The physical capability was there. For reasons largely to do with ivory towers, a constant need to escape, and the transformation of my bedroom into a plant sanctuary after returning home from Durham Uni in 1987, I entered a 26 year career in “the other world”. Starting as a precocious box packer in a Soho basement (London) I wandered into the cosmos of seedy bars and primeval software – the first Unix software—long before graphical interfaces (and Hazelnutsopen-source “freeware” Linux, the demise of this stage of my career in 1999). Bill Gates was barely shaving. Life was an incredible command-line experience, in a nut ”shell” script. The birth of the Internet was us (actually an intranet), The Santa Cruz Operation, and we transacted the very first on-line pizza order—the first in the world! The pizza, of course, was delivered to the wrong address. Managing websites became a part of daily existence. I remain proud of my first flashing gif. So, here were the foundations of visibility, exposure, and blue screens. I could write documents in Elan Eroff (tagging language) and read HTML like some people can calibrate C14 radiocarbon determinations in their head.


The next evolutionary phase, the bombshell explosion, was probably the advent of so-called Web 2.0 technologies. My last “hi-tech” career phase at Cisco involved supporting sales people across 83 countries, 23 time zones, Argentina to Kazakhstan by way of Cape Town and Moscow. The dynamism, interactive experience and multi-media portfolio of “enabling tools”, combined with the pivotal maturity of instant “on-demand” messaging, virtual meetings, video-streaming and social presence (e.g. LinkedIn) and interactive media such as the formative Facebook, no longer offered an opt-in. Web 2.0 was coercive, or one had to resign oneself to perpetual irrelevance.

Aversion therapy

In bed with Ray Mears

However, therein lay all the reasons to reject social media—not just blogging, but the plethora of energy-burning conduits through which one “worked, learned and played”–corporate mantra. At the point I took voluntary redundancy—took the money and ran—in 2011, Cisco had 65,000 employees (about 40,000 now). The company underpinned “The Internet” and we were all players by necessity and peer pressure in a constant series of often surreal “interactions”. Simply, one had to keep up to date with around 65,000 blogs in between the midnight conference calls and “something strange going down in Qatar”.

Image| sleeping under Ray Mears

So I departed Cisco with a veritable aversion. And I slept, very well, for a very long time.

Blank sheets and knapped blanks

KnapperMy passion in archaeology, more especially the Mesolithic, has never waned. It has undulated, for sure. I committed to myself to spend time, so long as I can afford it, to finish some earlier research—including the ethical writing-up of a Mesolithic rescue excavation—now to see a poster presentation at the Wild Things 2.0 conference in Durham in January. But how does one, after 26 years, re-engage with archaeology? I was invisible, largely. I was outside academia. I faced the firewalls, paywalls, cold shoulders and the eyes, look at my eyes, look into my eyes, that said “oh no, another crank”. Academic conferences can be cruel affairs, but then I am no longer a teenager.

“Debitage flew in my face like shrapnel.”

– A corruption of Laurie Lee after far too much cider with Rosie

It’s the network, stupid

Cisco Sales Training 2008If you ask me what underpins success in a convoluted but, humbly, successful business career, my answer would be singularly simple. Networking: building a mesh of supportive, trusted and trusting contacts—ultimately a series of molecular teams—as the basis for service, collaboration, enablement and perspective. Two trajectories, after awakening from sleep, after committing to a transition of some sort back to heritage and archaeology (a move my late father would have certain opinions about: I can hear his voice when the wind blows from the north), have centred on the network.

  • Develop a credible research framework and attend conferences, meet, mingle, socialise, question and learn;
  • Build a complementary web-presence and voice that fills an untapped niche; grasp the nettle and morph one’s online persona away from the past and back to the past for the future (ha!)

Missing consonants:

“Does my bum look big in this bog?”

The catalyst, ironically at a social media day-school hosted by Council for British Archaeology Yorkshire (that I’m now Trustee and Editor for), was the first connection point. Pat Hadley, then a PhD researcher at York (now York Museum Trust’s Wikipedian In Residence) corralled the sparks of my enthusiasm, and hesitance, and amongst other kindnesses, lit the blue touch paper that was to become my blog. His rebellious streak captured my imagination, built my confidence in wanting to have some kind of worldly dialogue around the “unwritten”, human aspects of archeology—the unbearably exciting as well as the numbingly frustrating—of research against the impenetrable bastions of academic sobriety and the furred arteries of theoretical impediment obscured by (usually French) philosophers’ quotations in the tomes of doctoral verbiage.

So, introducing humour (I hope), an irreverent and informal style, a presentation of the journey of discovery, conspire to make the mysteries of the Mesolithic, of lithics analysis, of rigorous methods, accessible, human, palpable, navigable and fun. There are too few blogs about Mesolithic archaeology, but I took solace and inspiration in an enduring favourite: hazelnut_relations.

“Any research project whose inception is the result of being bitten by an adder and falling arse over tweets into a deep crevice in a peat bog – must surely be enshrined in a blog?”
» The White Gill Project

Why do you persist, Spence?

Gated RoadMy blog, then, now boasting over 14,600 visits in less than two years—about the Mesolithic, remember!—is about story-telling, about a personal metamorphosis, and a journey without destination. Archaeology, after all, is concerned with constructing a series of plausible narratives, each with inherent perspectives and vested interests. What we miss, beyond the media-induced headline-grabbing sound bites of unique “one-offs”, is the nature of the learning process, of interaction with material culture in the field and in the lab, and the emotions lost to peer-reviewed articles locked away behind “open access” paywalls » see a rant about “open exclusion”. My blog has afforded an opportunity to opine about that debacle as well as the stagnant impasse of archaeological pay and conditions. I do because such issues hurt, because they haven’t shifted since I graduated, and because I can “from the outside”.

“My blog, and blogging, is also an implicit reflection of a re-assessment of Life’s values, with a big L.”

My people network, acknowledging that the blog is one component of a multi-node social media presence, can now be counted in the hundreds. I have new friends “in the industry”, some now very close collaborators, others “secret followers”. The complete “trip”, for me, must include the varying degrees of immediacy and interaction embodied in other media such as The Facebook, The Twitter and, a one-off dapple, YouTube. There’s more of course, but my world is not yet ready?

Web_pic_off12There’s also a very practical, perhaps altruistic aspect to blogging. When did a Mesolithic researcher share the practical processes, techniques and learnings through an exercise like turning a lithic assemblage from bags of flint, metrics and coordinates into a narrative? Some of my blog content offers more than a key-hole view—what I learn, I share, even though at least one idea has been “pinched”; that’s OK, for now. It’s a privilege to have questions thrown my way. It’s compelling to be relevant (or at least entertaining?) across a broad spectrum of interest, from the hard core academic to the college student who searches with their essay title, to the casual visitor with an interest in their place, community, history, prehistory and environment. Above all else, blogging is cathartic—others have spoken eloquently enough about the development of ideas and thinking, the re-enforcement of subject familiarity.

Stats, metrics and demographics

I come from an operations background. Every breathing minute was underpinned by metrics. There’s a satisfaction, a habit-forming indulgence, in monitoring the reach of one’s presence across communities, geographies, political landscapes. I chose WordPress in the end partly because of the mesmerizing demographics and insights into how one was being discovered (referral sites), exploited (the web-bots and SEM spammers), questioned (search terms), enjoyed (comments, likes, community diversity, exchanges) and context (click-throughs).

In the pressFrom my first nervous post, I have more questions now about the motives of visitors from 102 countries than I do of my own self-indulgent verbosity. How different will this landscape look if I return to School next year, in later “mid-life” to re-enter the labyrinths of learning? Will you still love my pollen cores then?

Spence | Twitter @microburin

Wild Things 2.0 Palaeolithic-Mesolithic Conference 2014 Abstracts | Lithoscapes posters

wild20Abstracts are now available, including two poster presentations from Lithoscapes Archaeological Research Foundation! That’s Paul Preston and me. There’s an exciting line-up of paper presentations with renowned national and international speakers. And a pub.

IMG_4469Unpicking the Palimpsest: A late Mesolithic upland activity area in North East England

Spencer Carter, Lithoscapes Archaeological Research Foundation | p30

This poster will outline the emerging results from on-going analyses of artefacts recorded during a systematic rescue excavation of a typologically Late Mesolithic upland lithic scatter at White Gill, Westerdale on the North York Moors, UK. The excavation and lithic assemblages are described and evaluated, including unequivocal evidence of hearth features with associated, discrete knapping events surrounding them, artefact associations with flat-stones, and a tentative structure. The early results of the lithics analysis are elucidated and reveal the complex lithic chaînes opératoires including the possible expedient use of legacy lithic material, and the possibility that one of the knappers was a juvenile or ‘apprentice learner’.

WGW2000-conjoining-microlithThe poster will also outline interesting evidence for site “pairing” suggested by lithic re-fits between neighbouring sites in the proximity of a palaeolake, the transport of raw materials, including the presence of finished Pennine chert tools. The project therefore affords a rare opportunity to analyse potential coeval activity and mobility over distance. Being the first comprehensive study of its kind in an area hitherto ignored or largely unrecorded, the micro-scale of the analyses described in this poster provides a keyhole view that not only confirms a rich data set, but also opens up new research questions that allow us to begin unpicking a persistent, palimpsestual, complex Mesolithic taskscape in a largely over-looked period and region. It also highlights implicit warnings about the damage that well-meaning or illicit “flinting” activities can wreak on a fragile archaeological record.

IMG_9690Everything We Know is Wrong? The MESOlithics Project: Charging lithics into the Mesolithic Canon

Paul Preston, Lithoscapes Archaeological Research Foundation | p42

Many researchers have set ambitious goals in attempting to create social narratives from Mesolithic lithic scatters in a landscape context or to derive socio-cultural/stylistic meaning from. While laudable, and recognising the rich debate that emanates from the research, such attempts have been arguably impeded by their reliance upon referential frameworks that fail to integrate adequately their theoretical base with systematic methodologies in support of their conclusions. As a result British Mesolithic studies — and concomitantly the so-called ‘Mesolithic Canon’ — have been hampered by the lack of three fundamental analytical foundations:

  1. a consensus definition of the Mesolithic, its phases and its geographic variation;
  2. an accurate, calibrated, sufficiently granular chronology, and;
  3. an explicitly defined, standardised, replicable lithic analysis methodology and typology.

KnapperThe most important of these is the third: it underpins the other two. However, this issue is especially acute since there are no agreed minimum standards for analysis and there remain a number of incompatible, unsystematic non-technological methodologies. It is therefore difficult to compare assemblages analysed by different lithicists, to derive reliable conclusions from past analyses and literature, and to communicate interpretations with universal clarity. Hence, interpretations tend to be subjective, result in para data rather than meta data, and are difficult to test in a replicable way.

As a consequence, this poster considers best practice in lithics analysis and how it can impact on current definitions of the British Mesolithic and its chronology. It then proposes a way to ameliorate many of the highlighted problems and outlines how a standardised technologically-based lithic methodology—with explicitly defined types, attributes and analytical protocols—can be developed and integrated with current theoretical paradigms.

About the conference

See you there!