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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

More on the erratic harvest



Further to my post on the Erratic Harvest, I have had another article brought to my attention.  Info and conclusions below.  In the article, Stephen Briggs argues that many of the stone axes in the UK collections are poorly provenanced (partly because some are so highly polished and precious that "non-interventionist techniques" are necessary, since cores and thin sections cannot be taken) and that partly on that basis, many assumptions have been made about factory and quarry sites, and about trading networks, without these assumptions ever being adequately tested.  He argues that a starting point of implement studies should always be the map of known erratic distributions, since many of the axes have probably been made at the places where convenient erratic raw materials were found.



"Neolithic near-identical twins: the ambivalent relationship between ‘factory’ rock and polished stone implements" 

by C. Stephen Briggs

(A modified version of this paper is published in "Stone Axe Studies III" ed Vin Davies and Mark Edmonds, Oxbow Books 2011, Ch 22, pp 353-360)


Conclusions

Arguably the most important problem yet to be addressed in British-Irish later prehistoric stone axe studies is that of establishing how far natural, rather than human agency affected the form, efficacy and distribution of the implements.

From the limited information presented here, it has been argued that there is now strong evidence for proposing that the flaking and polishing of stone implements is most likely controlled by inherent mineral determinants within the composition of the implement. Although first suggested thirty years ago from first hand observation by the petrologist W.A. Cummins, this line of inquiry still remains largely unexplored.

 It is important that when proposing or promoting theories of human behaviour, these should be based upon secure evidence, the data quality of which is agreed among all members of the investigating community.

This question of data quality must therefore be addressed urgently and should underscore all future investigational strategies aimed at provenancing lithic implements. There is clearly a need to resolve an objective research strategem and establish working standards for all aspects of lithic implement study and related evidence development. Re-cycled stone needs to be afforded greater parity with the implements in future investigation programmes as a priority.

 The surviving records of implement petrographic sections (as well as  information deriving from geochemistry or other investigative procedures) should form the core of any database, whether developed and available manually or online. This should be the starting point for attaining a sound basis for future lithic provenancing studies.

 Future arrangements that may help improve communications among scholars concerned with lithic studies might include the regular circulation or publication of mineral descriptions for implements submitted to the Implement Petrology Group or its partners; thin-section archives should be centralised and open discussion of grouping definitions are needed. Finally, little will be learnt of prehistoric behaviour patterns if any related investigation is pursued in ignorance of all the lithic resources and of any differentiation in petrographic definition, quantitative and qualitative which could lead to ambivalence of interpretation. Without them, the outcomes of so many of diverse efforts undertaken on so many aspects of this study over the last century will remain meaningless to posterity.

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