Struck Lithics

The range of struck lithic artefact types found in the Highland Region is broadly comparable with that noted for other Neolithic sites in much of Scotland (and in Britain more generally.

Click on the data point for more information about the find and a link to the HER record. This map is based on the information in Datasheet 5.2 (please note that some finds in this datasheet may be missing from the map, for example where there are no co-ordinates for antiquarian finds, so please view the datasheet for the further information).

As far as the Early Neolithic repertoire is concerned, the most obvious diagnostic artefact type is the leaf-shaped arrowhead, along with the lozenge- and kite-shaped arrowhead. In their report on the results of their Scotland’s First Settlers project, Hardy and Wickham-Jones (2009, section 1.3; Case Study Scotland’s First Settlers Project) state that leaf-shaped arrowheads ‘also occur well stratified in early Mesolithic contexts on a few sites such as Rùm’. Hpwever, no further leaf-shaped arrowheads have, to the current authors’ knowledge, been found in early Mesolithic contexts elsewhere and the examples found in Highland Region, with the exception of the claimed examples from Rùm, are of Neolithic date.

Examples of Early Neolithic leaf-shaped arrowheads of flint from the Maclean collection, probably from the Black Isle. ©Trustees of NMS

Good examples of leaf-shaped arrowheads from a reliable Early Neolithic context are those found in the south chamber at Camster Long (MHG18090), but they probably derive from the pre-long cairn activity (Davidson and Henshall 1991, 96‒102, fig. 21; Masters 1997). Further examples are known from the Early Neolithic passage tombs at Tulloch of Assery B, Caithness (MHG932; Davidson and Henshall 1991, Fig. 19); Garrywhin (Cairn of Get), Caithness (MHG2210; ibid, fig. 21). However, note that Joseph Anderson incorrectly attributed this arrowhead (NMS X.EO 126) to Ormiegill in the museum catalogue: ibid, 116).

Examples of lozenge-shaped flint arrowheads: 1. From the Maclean collection, probably from the Black Isle; 2. Carn Glas passage tomb, Easter Ross. (1) ©Trustees of NMS; (2) ©Alison Sheridan/NMS

A fine, large lozenge-shaped arrowhead is known from the Carn Glas passage tomb, Easter Ross (MHG9014; Henshall and Ritchie 2001). Two leaf-shaped and two kite-shaped arrowheads were found in the small, unusual chamber tomb at Strathglebe on Skye (MHG5316; Wildgoose and Kozikowski 2018; Ballin 2021a), and while the human remains from this monument have produced one radiocarbon date of 3494–3104 cal BC (OxA-37513; Sheridan et al 2018, 8), it may well be that the monument was constructed nearer to c 3600 BC, to judge from the presence of a jet ‘monster bead’ among the grave goods. See Section for a discussion of that bead. Further radiocarbon dates from the Strathglebe human remains is being done.

Leaf- and kite-shaped flint arrowheads from Strathglebe chamber tomb. ©Alison Sheridan

Numerous examples have also been found in the dunes at Littleferry, Golspie (Bradley et al 2017).

One of the drawers containing lithic finds from Littleferry in the National Museums Collection Centre, Granton, showing abundant complete and fragmentary flint arrowhead mostly leaf-shaped. ©Alison Sheridan/NMS

The distribution of leaf-and kite-shaped arrowheads (and of other Neolithic arrowheads) is shown in Map 5.2 (and see also Datasheet 5.2 for a listing). It remains to be seen whether the use of leaf-, lozenge- and kite-shaped arrowheads persisted much beyond c 3500 BC, since finds from Middle or Late Neolithic findspots may well be residual. The leaf-shaped arrowhead found at Kinbeachie, Easter Ross (Wickham-Jones 2001, illus. 10.4), for example, was not found in one of the dated Middle Neolithic contexts and may have been one of the fieldwalking finds from the area (MHG28605), in which case no association with the Middle Neolithic settlement (MHG58909) need be assumed.

Other elements of the Early Neolithic repertoire include narrow blades, produced using a bipolar knapping technique such as at The Ord North passage tomb, Sutherland (Henshall and Ritchie 1995, fig. 22; MHG11983), along with side- and end-scrapers and retouched flakes that could have been used as knives.

As for Middle and Later Neolithic struck lithics, certain novelties can be identified in the repertoire of artefact types, in the technique of knapping and in the provenance of the raw materials and/or finished objects in the Highland Region, from perhaps as early as the later fourth millennium and certainly from the first half of the third. These novelties reflect the movement of materials, ideas and technical know-how around Britain at that time, and highlight links with areas far to the south of Highland Region, including Yorkshire. Arrowheads are the clearest indicator of this. Chisel-shaped arrowheads, one of a ‘family’ of petit tranchet derivative forms (Ballin 2011a2021b, 27‒8 for a definition of the type), are known to have been in use elsewhere in Britain during the late fourth and early third millennia BC, with the examples found in Burial C in the Duggleby Howe mound, North Yorkshire being associated with a radiocarbon date of 3010‒2895 cal BC, for example (Gibson 2014). As discussed by Torben Ballin (2011a) in his report on important assemblages from Overhowden and Airhouse, Scottish Borders, the ceramic associations of chisel-shaped arrowheads elsewhere in Britain are Impressed Ware (usually referred to as ‘Peterborough Ware’ in England and Wales) and Grooved Ware. Examples associated with the latter pottery type include those found at Ness of Brodgar (Anderson-Whymark 2020a, fig. 17.11).

In the Highland Region, chisel-shaped arrowheads are known from Camster Round; at the Late Neolithic, Grooved Ware-associated site at Raigmore, Inverness (Simpson 1996a); the ASDA supermarket site at Lower Slackbuie, Inverness (EHG3271; Clarke 2012, fig. 3.9) where they may be contemporary with the use of Grooved Ware; Littleferrry, Sutherland; and at Tarradale on the Black Isle, where one example is suspected to be an import from Yorkshire (Ballin forthcoming, 5, 14). Further probable examples of chisel-shaped arrowheads are known from Camster Round passage tomb (MHG1816; Davidson and Henshall 1991, fig. 20).

Example of chisel-shaped arrowheads: 1. Camster Round; 2. Stoneyfield, Raigmore; 3.Lower Slackbuie (ASDA site), Inverness. (1) After Davidson and Henshall 1991; ©Audrey Henshall; (2) After Simpson 1996a; ©Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the estate of Derek Simpson; (3) After Clarke 2012 ©NG Archaeological Services


Oblique arrowheads – including some forms that look superficially similar to chisel-shaped arrowheads, are a Late Neolithic artefact type, with no example dated to demonstrably earlier than 3000 BC. Their currency overlaps with that of chisel-shaped arrowheads (Ballin 2011a2021b, 27‒8). Like chisel-shaped arrowheads, they also belong to the family of petit-tranchet derivative forms. The ceramic they are associated with is consistently Grooved Ware. They are found over a large part of Britain but are curiously not a feature of Late Neolithic Orkney (Working stone).

Finds from the passage tomb at Ormiegill, Caithness: 1. Oblique arrowheads of black flint and a flint scraper, found in the chamber and ante-chamber. Note: the red leaf-shaped arrowhead in the photograph is not from Ormiegill but is from Cairn of Get; 2. The ovoid macehead (Left) shown beside a macehead from Tormore, Arran; 3. Drawing of the Ormiegill macehead, arrowheads, scraper and (far right) edge-polished flint knife. (1) and (2) from Clarke et al. 1985; ©Trustees of NMS; (3) From Davidson and Henshall 1991; ©Audrey Henshall

Only a few have been found in the Highland Region. Arguably the finest are three of exotic black flint found in the passage tomb at Ormiegill, Caithness (MHG2184; Davidson and Henshall 1991, fig. 19), one of which superficially resembles a chisel-shaped arrowhead. These could well have been deposited in the by-then ancient monument at the same time as a macehead and an edge-polished flint knife. Two, also of black flint, are known from Tarradale (Ballin forthcoming, 5 and 14). A tendency for oblique arrowheads to be made of black or dark-brown flint has been noted by Ballin (2011a) in his research on Scottish examples. This is a feature also recognised by Stevenson (1947) in his essay on this arrowhead type in Scotland. Its significance will be returned to below.

Oblique arrowheads are particularly interesting since they appear to be the product of specialist manufacture, circulating widely as prestigious possessions; some, such as the examples with very long barbs known from Wessex, East Anglia and Yorkshire, are veritably baroque in their display of the flint-knapper’s skill. See Bishop et al (2011), on an example from Marden, Wiltshire and its comparanda. It is known that oblique arrowheads, including ripple-flaked and part-polished examples, were part of a range of Late Neolithic artefact types made by Late Neolithic specialist flintworkers on the Yorkshire Wolds (Durden 1995). While no ripple-flaked or partly-polished oblique arrowheads have (yet) been found in Highland Region, a ripple-flaked example is known from Culbin Sands on the Moray coast (Stevenson 1947). The provenance of the Highland Region oblique arrowheads will be considered below.

Other Late Neolithic artefact types found in Highland Region are edge-polished (or ‘polished-edge’) flint knives (Ballin 2021b, 57‒8). Rectangular examples are known from Ormiegill and Camster Round passage tombs (Davidson and Henshall 1991, figs 19 and 20). A discoidal edge-polished knife is known from Ardross, Easter Ross (NMS X.AA 81; MHG8014). Both rectangular and discoidal edge-polished knives are known to have been produced in Yorkshire (Durden 1995; Ballin 2021b). There is a generalised association of discoidal edge-polished knives with Grooved Ware pottery (Varndell 2004), and numerous roughouts for this variety of edge-polished knife are known from the flint mines at Grimes Graves, Norfolk, which suggests that their production continued after 2500 BC, when the main period of mining occurred there.

Edge-polished flint knives: 1. Rectangular, from Ormiegill, Caithness; 2. Rectangular, from Camster Round, Caithness; 3. Discoidal, from Ardross. (1) and (2) After Davidson and Henshall 1991; ©Audrey Henshall; (3) ©Alison Sheridan/NMS

Horseshoe-shaped scrapers, such as the examples from Ormiegill, from an evaluation trench at Milton of Leys (MHG54230; Wickham-Jones 2003, 41) and from the Slackbuie ASDA site (EHG3271; Clarke 2012Case Study Lower Slackbuie), are also known as a Late Neolithic artefact type. ‘Combination’ tools (eg scraper/knives) and scale-flaked knives or knives with retouch along one or more edge, are also considered Late Neolithic, although scale-flaked knives were not exclusively used during this period. Serrated blades are attested from Middle and Late Neolithic contexts at Kinbeachie (MHG58909; Wickham-Jones 2001) and at the Slackbuie ASDA site (Clarke 2012).

The novel flint-knapping technique that was used in many parts of Britain from the late 4th millennium until the second half of the 3rd millennium, and which is attested in Highland Region, is the Levallois-like technique, the characteristics of which are described by Ballin (2011a, 34–7; 2011b). This technique, which employs tortoise-shaped cores to produce blades and broad flakes, was used to produce chisel-shaped and oblique arrowheads as well as some scale-flaked knives, edge-polished knives, serrated tools and combined-use tools (Ballin 2011a, 37). The technique was used by the specialist flintworkers on the Yorkshire Wolds (Durden 1995) and by the flint miners at Grime’s Graves in Norfolk (Saville 1981). It is also attested at the Den of Boddam flint mines near Peterhead, Aberdeenshire and in several parts of Scotland, including Orkney (Ballin 2011b). Its widespread use, as an example of ‘technological transfer’, ie the sharing of technical know-how, is one of many pieces of evidence for the inter-connectedness of communities over wide distances during the late 4th and 3rd millennia.

As regards the choice and sourcing of raw materials, in most cases, locally available resources appear to have been used. There is also evidence for the movement of some materials (or of artefacts made of those materials), in some cases over long distances, at different times during the Neolithic.

Pebble flint, of varying quality, is the most commonly used local material, but various other locally available stone types were also used, including quartz and quartzite; baked mudstone for example at Strathglebe, Skye (Ballin 2021aMHG5316); chalcedony for example at Camster Long, Caithness (Masters 1997MHG1809) and Kinbeachie, Easter Ross (Wickham-Jones 2001MHG58909MHG28605); silicified sandstone; and Rùm bloodstone (Wickham-Jones 1990; cf. Ballin 2018).

There is evidence for the medium-distance movement of Rùm bloodstone during the Neolithic, up to c 90km (Ballin 20182019; Ballin 2020). It was recently discovered that the bloodstone had travelled as far as Tarradale, Easter Ross during the Early Mesolithic (Ballin and Grant 2020). Ballin’s (20182020b) work on Neolithic and earlier assemblages from Highland Region makes it clear that much still needs to be learned about patterns of resource exploitation and circulation, particularly in the west. It may well be, for example, that Durness chert, found for example at the Mesolithic site of Camas Daraich on Skye (MHG29196) and present widely between Cape Wrath and across Skye (Ballin 2017), was also used during the Neolithic period.

As for the long-distance movement of stone or of finished artefacts, there is evidence that pitchstone from Arran (Table 5.2) was reaching Highland Region from as early as the early 4th millennium, as attested, for example, at the pre-long cairn surface at Camster Long, Caithness (MHG1809), and from the passage tombs at Ord North, Sutherland (MHG11983) and Tulach an t’Sionnaich, Caithness (MHG926): Masters 1997; Ballin 2009,91). See Ballin (2015) for the Early Neolithic long-distance movement of pitchstone more generally. Evidence from elsewhere in Scotland, notably Barnhouse and Ness of Brodgar, Orkney (Middleton 2005; Anderson-Whymark 2020a) confirms that it was also travelling long distances during the Late Neolithic, and it may be that some of the Highland Region finds arrived during this period, although there is no unequivocal evidence for this.

Blade, core and blade fragment of pitchstone from Lower Slackbuie (ASDA) site, Inverness. Photograph by Alison Sheridan ©Alison Sheridan and NG Archaeological Services

Pitchstone artefacts have been found at over a dozen places in the Highlands. They tend to occur as individual objects, or as a small number of finds, suggesting that supplies were scarce. Pitchstone blades and flakes may have been used for specific purposes as the material is particularly sharp. That at least some of the pitchstone was probably acquired in ‘raw’ form and was worked on site is suggested by most of the finds being debitage; the unworked lump was found at Achnahaird Sands (Ballin 2009, 91, M272; MHG45869); and the cores were found at Dahl House, Glenfinnan (ibid, M065; MHG301) and at the Slackbuie ASDA site (EHG3271; Clarke 2012, 28).

Distribution of Arran pitchstone artefacts and transported raw material showing finds from all periods. ©Torben Ballin
Findspot HER Current location and Reg. No Context Details Reference
Camster Long chamber tomb, Caithness MHG1809 Edinburgh; awaiting processing through TT system Predates cairn construction Debitage Davidson and Henshall 1991, Masters 1997; Ballin 2009, 91 (M320)
The Ord North passage tomb, Sutherland MHG11983 NMS X.1995.99.21 Found just outside the cairn kerb, 3.43 m NNE of the passage entrance Blade Wickham-Jones and Bradley 1981; Henshall and Ritchie 1995, 65; Ballin 2009, 91 (M061); Sharples 1981
Tulach an t’Sionnaich, Caithness MHG926 NMS X.EO 1111 In chamber, 76 mm above chamber floor Flake (debitage) Ballin 2009, 91 (M017)
Fortrose and Rosemarkie Waste Water MHG60799 Cromarty Courthouse Museum Pit (Feature 25) in settlement. Pit described as ‘grain-drying kiln’ but this is unlikely to be correct; had multi-period fill Blade fragment found embedded in unburnt daub Saville 2014Case Study Fortrose and Rosemarkie Waste Water Works
Dahl House, Polloch, Glenfinnan MHG301 NMS X.ACA 373 (core-trimming flake) Lithic scatter Flake, possibly a core-trimming flake; microblade core Ballin 2009, 91 (M065)
Littleferry Links MHG11663 NMS X.BJ 193 May well be from one of the shell middens on Littleferry Links explored by Lawson Tait in 1867 1 piece of debitage Tait 1868; Ballin 2009, 91 (M008; listed as Golspie)
Case Study Littleferry Links
Urquhart Castle MHG3265 Probably NMS, in X.2014.61   Flake (debitage) Ballin 2009, 91 (M285)
Achnahaird Sands, Achiltibuie MHG9129MHG4586871 IMAG (TT89/06) Lithic scatter Raw material (unworked lump) Ballin 2009, 91 (M272); Ballin 2020
Risga MHG14394MHG39297MHG14393/  MHG148   Not known but probably Hunterian Museum or Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. From Atkinson, Banks and Pollard excavations in 1990s Stray find near shell midden Blade (debitage) Ballin 2009, 91 (M176)
Kinbeachie, Culbokie, Easter Ross MHG58909 Inverness Museum and Art Gallery Settlement 3 blades and debitage chunk Barclay et al2001; Ballin 2009, 98  (S076)
Cuthill Links, Dornoch   MHG19703 Found by Tain Archaeology Group and retained by finder. Needs to go through TT. Lithic scatter 1 flake Ballin 2009, 98  (S015); O’Sullivan 1994
Castle Hill, Cauldfield Road, Inverness MHG36899 Inverness Museum and Art Gallery (TT21/06) Irregular shallow scoop, feature 020 2 fragments, including a blade fragment Ballin 2009, 98 (S016); SUAT 2000 
Lower Slackbuie ASDA site EHG3271 Not yet processed through TT Settlement; core from palaeochannel; blade from pit 1284; flake from pit 1234 1 blade, 1 small flake, 1 core Clarke 2012
Upper Cullernie MHG16135 Unknown. Found during fieldwork by J Wordsworth associated with Nairn to Inverness gas pipeline, 1991 Pit 1 oval retouched flake; 3 struck flakes Ballin 2009, 98 (S027); Wordsworth 1991
Belladrum MHG56866 Not yet allocated by TT Unstratified find from area of pits and ‘a small stone row’ Flake Hunter 2014
Table 5.2 Finds of Arran pitchstone of Neolithic date in Highland Region after Ballin (2009), with additions


The HER entry for Acharn Farm, Morvern (MHG497), refers to pitchstone being present in a lithic assemblage presumed to be of Mesolithic date. The excavators, did not rule out the possibility of a post-Mesolithic date for some of the assemblage but it is impossible to tell whether the one piece of pitchstone debitage (Ballin 2009, 87) is Neolithic, rather than Mesolithic date. That said, the known pattern of circulation of pitchstone (ibid) is not inconsistent with a Neolithic date.

The question of whether any Buchan Ridge flint from the Middle to Late Neolithic mines at the Den of Boddam near Peterhead, Aberdeenshire (Saville 2008) was imported into the Highland Region is hard to answer, because flint from the same deposit is known to be available in pebble form along the northeast Scottish coast. It occurs in a range of colours, from grey to red and orange. It has been argued that a cache of unworked flint nodules found at Ness of Brodgar in Orkney constitutes an import from the Den of Boddam mine (Anderson-Whymark 2020a), but no comparable evidence has been found in the Highlands.

There is a strong possibility that flint, in various colours, including black/dark brown, was imported from Yorkshire to parts of Highland Region (especially the eastern part), probably in the form of finished artefacts, from the late 4th millennium through to the early 3rd millennium. This is part of a broader picture, documented for southern and northeast Scotland by Ballin (2011a), with artefactual associations of Impressed Ware and Grooved Ware. There is a distinct tendency for certain artefact types to be made from specific types of flint, with oblique arrowheads being made from black/dark brown flint and edge-polished knives being made from high quality, fine-grained mottled grey flint, for example. While it can be hard to differentiate grey flint from locally available pebble flint, there is no doubt that the black/dark brown flint was not obtained in Highland Region. The implication is that valued and prestigious artefacts were being imported from Yorkshire, particularly during the Late Neolithic. The range of flint used by the specialist flintworkers on the Yorkshire Wolds includes both fine-grained grey flint and black/dark brown flint (Durden 1995; cf. Ballin 2011a, 12) although Yorkshire is, not the only source of black/dark brown flint in England.

Artefacts of this high-quality flint have been found at several sites in the Highland Region, including Tarradale, Easter Ross (Ballin forthcoming), Ormiegill (MHG2184) and Knocknagael, Slackbuie (MHG54504; Ballin 2016b). The blade found at Knocknagael comes from a pit whose fill is radiocarbon dated to 3130–2920 cal BC (Kilpatrick 2016, 8). A systematic review of the occurrence of suspected Yorkshire flint imports in Highland Region would be useful – and this should include a re-investigation of the flint items found inside chamber tombs, especially Camster Round (MHG1816) and Kenny’s Cairn (MHG2201). While further work on characterising the naturally-occurring flint in the Highland Region needs to be undertaken, recent fieldwork around Tarradale by Ballin, including the collection of hundreds of flint pebbles, has made it clear that neither the high-quality mottled grey flint nor the black/dark brown flint features among that material that was locally available.

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