Raw Material Studies (continued)

Territorial structures

Raw material studies may allow the definition of several higher levels of territories, such as techno-complexes and social territories (cf. Ballin 2009). Techno-complexes are usually a group of social territories, which simply share a common raw material basis, which then determines specific technological approaches (eg, the Scottish quartz 'province' in the north and west and the chert 'province' in the south).

Social territories are mainly recognizable via their use of style. Wiessner (1983, 256), defines style as '...formal variation in material culture that transmits information about personal and social identity', and she distinguishes between two forms of style, one relating to personal identity (assertive style), and the other to group identity (emblemic style) (Wiessner 1983, 257). Assertive style is of no relevance to the present case. Wiessner defines emblemic style as '...formal variation in material culture that has a distinct referent and transmits a clear message to a defined target population (cf. Wobst 1977, 323) about conscious affiliation or identity' (Wiessner 1983, 257). In the following text, the term 'style' refers exclusively to emblemic style.

In some cases, raw materials represent style, in the sense that they are markers of prehistoric group identity, and thereby also markers of social territories. If a decision to use or not use a certain raw-material is based entirely on the presence or absence of this raw-material the expression is functional, whereas a decision to give preference to a rare raw-material, or a decision to disregard a suitable abundant raw-material, are stylistic expressions (exchange of social information).

The almost total dominance of quartz in some parts of northern and western Scotland, as well as the almost total dominance of chert in southern Scotland, may be examples of the former, as in those cases few other suitable raw materials were available in the volumes needed. The use of Rùm bloodstone and Staffin baked mudstone in one specific part of the Southern Hebrides, on the other hand, may be examples of the latter, with the overlapping distribution patterns (Clarke & Griffiths 1990, Ill. 94; Table 29) of these two visibly distinctive raw materials probably defining one social territory. Raw-material preference as an expression of function usually results in a gradually declining fall-off curve (Renfrew 1977, 73) with growing distance to the outcrop, whereas raw-material preference as an expression of style results in a marked drop in frequency at the borders of the social territory in question (Hodder 1979, 447), or possibly a stepped decline (O'Shea & Milner 2002, 220).

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Felsite Shetland knife (courtesy of Ian Tait, Shetland Museum).

Felsite Shetland knife (courtesy of Ian Tait, Shetland Museum).