Raw Material Studies

The following text is an amalgamation of two presentations – one made for the Upper Palaeolithic/Mesolithic ScARF panel and the other for the Neolithic ScARF panel (ScARF = Scottish Archaeological Research Framework) – and it represents a brief general introduction to Scottish raw material studies:

Due to the fact that the bulk of evidence from Scottish Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age sites is in the form of lithic artefacts, lithic raw material studies form an essential part of the research into Scotland's earliest prehistory. Scottish geology offered a wide variety of lithic raw materials (listed below), and the study of these raw materials permits the lithics specialist to discuss a number of issues. The most important of these are:

  • Typo-technological issues;
  • Territorial structures;
  • Exchange within and between territories;
  • Procurement sites;
  • In addition, the use of some raw materials is highly diagnostic, allowing them to be used as a supplementary dating tool.

Raw materials identified in Scottish early prehistoric assemblages

click to enlarge
Levallois-like core in Yorkshire flint (courtesy of National Museums Scotland).
Levallois-like core in Yorkshire flint
(courtesy of National Museums Scotland).

The most up-to-date general presentation of lithic raw materials exploited in Scottish prehistory is Saville 1994, but also see Wickham-Jones & Collins 1978 and Wickham-Jones 1986.

  • Pebble flint (most Scottish beaches and, to a lesser extent, till deposits; eg, Smith 1880; Marshall 2000a; 2000b).
  • Yorkshire flint (eg, Upper Palaeolithic Howburn in South Lanarkshire and Scottish Late Neolithic assemblages in general; Ballin forthcoming c; Ballin et al. 2010, forthcoming).
  • Antrim flint (various caches, but also some settlement assemblages and burial contexts; eg, Saville 1999a, 1999b; Ballin 2006; forthcoming d).
  • Buchan Ridge flint (Saville 1995, 2005, 2006, 2008; Suddaby & Ballin 2010).
  • Quartz, various forms (mainly north, west and Highland Scotland; Ballin 2008).
  • Rùm bloodstone (eg, Kinloch, Rùm, and surrounding islands and mainland; Clarke & Griffiths 1990).
  • Staffin baked mudstone (eg, An Corran and surrounding islands and mainland; Saville & Miket 1994; Hardy et al. forthcoming).
  • Other mudstones (eg, Shiants, Western Isles, Woodend Loch, near Glasgow, and Midross in Argyll; Wickham-Jones pers. comm.; Davidson et al. 1949).
  • Skye tuffs (eg, Clachan Harbour on Raasay and Home Farm at Portree, Skye; Ballin et al. 2011; Ballin forthcoming e).
  • Chert (mainly southern and, to a lesser degree, central Scotland; eg, Ballin & Johnson 2005; Ballin forthcoming d).
  • Chalcedony/agate (occasional use, but with higher frequencies in Fife and Angus; eg. Morton, Fife; Coles 1971).
  • Pitchstone (this material was used on Mesolithic Arran but, apparently, the inter-territorial exchange in pitchstone is largely limited to the first half of the Early Neolithic period; Ballin 2009).
  • Various minority raw materials (eg, jasper, silicified limestone, basalt; Lacaille 1938).
  • Various raw materials used for axehead production (eg, Creag na Caillich hornfels, Perthshire, and North Roe felsite, Shetland (Edmonds et al. 1993; Ballin forthcoming a, b)

Pitchstone blades from Auchategan, Argyll (Ballin 2006). Thin-section of pitchstone from Blackpark Plantation East, Bute (Ballin et al. 2009).