4.3.2 Flaked lithics of the Bronze Age

From the beginning to the end of the Bronze Age there is a radical change in the manufacture (and presumably use) of flaked lithics. This is marked by reductions in the size of assemblages, a different and smaller range of tool types and by less controlled manufacturing techniques.

Lithic assemblages from the Early Bronze Age (EBA) are not easily separated from those of the Late Neolithic, unless by virtue of a securely dated context and these are usually funerary in nature. A few lithic types are considered as classic EBA forms: barbed-and-tanged points and thumbnail scrapers because these have Beaker funerary associations (Edmonds 1995) whilst retouched tools from contexts with Food Vessels and Collared Urns often include knives and end scrapers (Shepherd and Cowie 1977). More often than not these retouched types, particularly the latter two also occur within larger assemblages linked with Late Neolithic Grooved Ware occupations (Suddaby and Ballin 2011, Clarke 2012).  So unless there is pottery with which to more closely date the activity a lithic assemblage such as this is normally dated only broadly  by specialists to the Late Neolithic/ Early Bronze Age (LN/EBA).

There are indications that a wider range of local materials was being used in the Bronze Age than in the Neolithic. Quartz is often found in lithic assemblages of this date and at many sites it is the most common material, supplemented by only a small amount of flint e.g. The Udal, S Uist (Clarke 1997), Rosinish, Benbecula (Clarke 1982), Kebister, Shetland (Clarke 1999b),  Dail na Caraidh, Inverness-shire (Clarke 1999c) and see Ballin 2009. Recent excavations on the Shiant Islands produced a probable LN/EBA assemblage of baked mudstone which was most likely derived from immediately accessible sources (Clarke 2008) as well as flint. In Aberdeenshire Ballin notes the use of local flint at this time (Ballin 2011). Can we recognise this in Bronze Age assemblages in the south of Scotland where local cherts were an important resource throughout the earlier prehistoric period?

Towards the end of the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age lithic working became less organised and assemblages are characterised by the dominance of unsystematically produced flakes a high proportion of them with pebble cortex, pronounced bulbs of percussion and hinged terminations as well as a narrow range of particular retouched tools including chunky scrapers, denticulates and notched pieces (Ballin in White and Richardson 2010, Ballin 2011, Young and Humphreys 1999).

Research questions for lithics in the Bronze Age –

·    How does the use of lithics differ between occupation and funerary contexts in the LN/EBA?

·    How were lithics used in the cremation ritual – some are heavily burnt before incorporation in or around vessel, others not.

·    How does the selection of lithic material for knapping compare with the Neolithic – has the ‘value’ of particular rock types been diminished with the use of metal? How has access to these resources changed?

·    At what point was the knowledge of organised flint knapping lost? And when do flaked lithics become ‘secondary’ to other materials e.g. metal?

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