5.5 Craft and Industry

It is worth noting that the term ‘industry’ is a misnomer when applied to the Neolithic period in the Highland Region since it implies a scale and mode of production that did not exist. The nearest one comes to mass production concerns the exploitation of flint at the Den of Boddam in Aberdeenshire and the exploitation of Langdale tuff in Cumbria and porcellanite in County Antrim for making stone axeheads.

5.5.1 Pottery Manufacture and Production

As regards to manufacturing technique, the traditional Carinated Bowl (CB) pottery of the earliest Neolithic in the Region (section shows clear continuity with its ‘parental’ Chasséo-Michelsberg tradition of northern France; this has been demonstrated for CB pottery in general by an excellent technical comparative study by Pioffet (2014; 2017). This pottery was made with considerable skill by potters who had over a millennium’s worth of inherited experience of pottery manufacture. The consistency in the choice and treatment of the stone inclusion that were added to the clay to prevent pots from cracking during firing and subsequent use indicates that a ‘recipe’ for the use of the raw materials was followed. Over time it is possible to see that some of the skill of the earliest, immigrant continental potters was lost over succeeding generations, as thicker-walled and often coarser pots were made – although the vessels in the ‘Unstan bowl’ series, and the so-called ‘Achnacree bowls’, were well made.

Traditional Carinated Bowl pottery from Culduthel, Inverness. From MacSween 2021. ©Headland Archaeology (UK) Ltd

The manufacturing technique was the use of hand construction, without the aid of a potter’s wheel. In general, pots were built using flattened coils of clay. Some of the ‘Unstan’ bowls could have been made by moulding the belly into a shallow hollow, then adding the neck. At Raigmore, Inverness (MHG54911) the impression of what may have been basketry made from plant fibres on the wall of two large Grooved Ware pots (P43 and 44: Simpson 1996a, 73 and illus 16) suggests that the coiled clay used to create some such pots had been supported within a basket while being built. Techniques used to finish the surface of pots range from the polishing or burnishing of some Early Neolithic vessels, to the common use of wet smoothing, and the probable use of a slip, or slurry, to coat some Grooved Ware pots.

There is no evidence to suggest that pottery production was undertaken at a scale greater than that of the individual household; in other words, it was not being produced in bulk. Petrological thin-sectioning of some of the Tornagrain, Inverness-shire (EHG5445) Early Neolithic sherds has confirmed that that assemblage was made using locally-available materials. It is clear, though, that potters were in most cases aware of stylistic developments elsewhere, and a considerable amount of design sharing is evident. This attests to the operation of networks of contacts at various points during the Neolithic. The specific local and regional trajectories of Neolithic pottery development show a complex story of initial consistency, thanks to the introduction of a well-established ceramic tradition from the Continent, followed by divergence plus inter-area sharing of some design ideas.

5.5.2 Stone Artefact Manufacture and Production

Information on the knapping traditions of flint and other materials with similar working properties has been provided in section, where it was noted that a specific technique resembling that of the Palaeolithic Levallois technique, was adopted during the late 4th millennium. There may be scope for an in-depth comparison of Mesolithic and Early Neolithic knapping traditions, following on from the work undertaken by Caroline Wickham-Jones and Karen Hardy for their Scotland’s First Settlers project (Hardy and Wickham-Jones 2007l Case Study Scotland’s First Settlers Project).

As for the manufacturing techniques used for other stone artefacts, axeheads would have been made by a combination of flaking or pecking, depending on the toughness of the rock and grinding, followed in some cases by polishing. For the processes used in the manufacture of the continental jadeitite axeheads found in the Region, see Pétrequin et al 2012. The manufacture and decoration of carved stone balls has been discussed by Hugo Anderson-Whymark (Video: Rethinking Scotland’s Neolithic carved stone balls – Archaeology Orkney), and he has also discussed the manufacture of maceheads, with reference to Orcadian examples (Anderson-Whymark 2020a). With coarse stone tools, many hammerstones are simply unworked cobbles, while saddle querns are made from large blocks of stone, with a hollow that was probably initially pecked out, and was smoothed by the repetitive use of the rubber during the process of grinding the grain or other materials.

Axeheads of Alpine jadeitite found in the Highland Region: 1. Daviot, Inverness-shire; 2. Bank of the River Spean near Fort William, Inverness-shire; 3. Inverness Railway Stores; 4. Dunrobin area, Sutherland; 5. Berriedale, Caithness; 6. Caithness, of jadeitite or eclogite. 7. Axehead with no findspot information from the Maclean collection, possibly found in the Highland Region. ©Projet JADE

With regards to the scale and organisation of production for small flaked lithics, in most cases we are dealing with small-scale, local production to meet immediate needs. However, in the case of materials and artefacts that circulated over networks of contacts, larger-scale production for the purpose of exchange is likely to have occurred as attested for Middle to Late Neolithic Yorkshire flint by the work of Tess Durden (1995). The scale of production of pitchstone artefacts, and/or of the ‘quarrying’ of raw pitchstone for exchange, need not have been large, however, as pitchstone finds are rare in the Highland Region (Ballin 2009).

The scale and organisation of axehead production will have varied according to the material used. Where local stone was used, it is likely that exploitation was expeditious. In the case of the Middle Neolithic axeheads made from calc-silicate hornfels from Creag na Caillich, the scale of manufacture would have been slightly larger, but by no means large. Just 30 axeheads made from this material were known in 1988 for the whole of Britain; while these are only a percentage of the number of axeheads originally made, all the signs are that this was a small-scale exploitation (Edmonds et al 1992). In contrast, the axeheads of Langdale tuff and of Antrim porcellanite were indeed manufactured in large numbers (Edmonds 2011; Cooney et al 2011), and axeheads of jadeitite and other Alpine rocks were produced in sufficient numbers as to circulate over vast distances across Europe (Pétrequin and Pétrequin 2012).

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