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Thursday, 1 September 2016

Was Rhosyfelin rhyolite used for blades and scrapers?

I was doing some research on the "engineering properties" of foliated rhyolite, and came across above illustration on the web site.  By the way, "vuggy" means "riddled with small cavities or spaces" -- making a rock difficult and unpredictable for working with. If a rock is vuggy, foliated, fractured and riddled with veins,  we have a problem.   From this and other sites it appears that rhyolite, foliated or otherwise, is not a lot of use for standing stones or lintels -- although there is one smallish foliated rhyolite monolith in the field near Pensarn.  It's about 2m long and was featured in my post of the other day.

But what about the foliated rhyolite being used for blades, scrapers, axe heads or weapons like spears and arrowheads?  That's a much more enticing possibility.  Given that there is evidence of long intermittent occupation of the Rhosyfelin camp site, probably from the Mesolithic right through to the Middle Ages,  and given the reasonable assumption that it was used by hunting and gathering parties,  could it be that the frost-shattered rockfall debris was a handy source for tools?  There would be no need for any quarrying -- the raw material was all there lying about, waiting to be used.

I gather from the reports on Rhosyfelin dig that there are occasional finds of flakes or chips of rhyolite, but nothing that could be described as a "debris layer" associated with manufacturing on a large scale.  So maybe we are talking about occasional and opportunist activity rather than anything organized. 

The Rhosyfelin rock does not naturally fracture conchoidally, and so it might have been difficult to fashion into axes, spear points or arrowheads.  But it would be interesting to see some experimental archaeology done on it.  Have any of those clever prehistoric tool makers been to the site to do some experimental tool-making?   If not, why not?

This raises the interesting possibility that if tools were made at Rhosyfelin, either in the Neolithic or in the Bronze Age, might some of them have found their way to Stonehenge during the course of normal trading activity?  And might the breaking up of such tools have provided some, if not all, of the "rhyolitic debitage" so beloved of the geologists?    If they say "No -- the quantity of this debitage is far too great" that's fine.  How many kilos are we talking about in total?  Then we might seriously have to consider that some lumps of rhyolite rock might have been smashed up on the Stonehenge site.  How they got there is another matter.....

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