2.4.3 Material Culture

Lithic assemblages are a significant archaeological resource and represent a core source of information for understanding Scotland’s earliest settlers (Wickham-Jones 2020, 10). Scatters, which can often be the only indication of past human activity, provide evidence for more complex depositional practices and include material from different periods. It is key to understanding how a site has been used over time (Wickham-Jones 2020, 10). Lithic scatters are the dominant form of material culture available from the Mesolithic period in Perth and Kinross and represent the primary evidence for hunting, gathering, fishing and transitory camps in both the lowlands and uplands. In the uplands at Edramucky Burn, local quartz dominates the assemblages with five main types exploited. The largest singular assemblage, some 988 pieces, came from an occupation floor interpreted as a primary knapping location and near a pit containing a cache of quartz nodules. Blades, cores and flakes comprise the bulk of the assemblages but none, other than one possible microlith fragment, were diagnostic (Wickham-Jones 2020, 13 and 15). The recovered flint was of a wide range of colours, and evidenced the importation of pre-made tools to the site with subsequent retooling episodes. The finds included a possible microburin, a retouched flake resembling a scalene-triangle microlith and a backed bladelet (Wickham-Jones 2020).

The multi-period assemblage from Freeland Farm (707 lithic artefacts) is dominated by Late Mesolithic evidence (8400–4000 BC), in particular the exploitation of local jasper/carnelian for the production of microblades and tools. The tools include microliths and bladelets, scrapers, knives, burins and truncations; a diagnostic microburin by-product from the manufacture of microliths was also recovered.

Considering the transition to a more sedentary use of the site, local flint characterised the Early Neolithic material recovered from Freeland Farm and late Neolithic artefacts included exotic flint from north-east England (Nicol and Ballin 2019). Neolithic forms include a leaf-shaped point, scale-flaked knives and a truncated blade of Arran pitchstone. As shown in Ballin (2015; 2017), most Scottish mainland pitchstone found in radiocarbon-dated pits belongs to the Early Neolithic, although a small number of pieces have now been recovered from radiocarbon-dated Mesolithic pits (Ballin et al 2018).

Assemblages from the northern shore of the River Tay estuary at Pitroddie and East Inchmichael Farm continued to exhibit the exploitation of jasper/carnelian in the form of flake debitage. However, the dominant materials, found in the form of debitage and short end-scrapers, were chalcedony and agate. (Ballin et al 2018, 13). A further, very small assemblage from the Scone Estate (MPK20192) included a pitchstone conical microblade-core that most likely dates to the Early Neolithic (Ballin et al 2018).

The extensive assemblage from Freeland Farm has allowed the development of a Late Mesolithic operational schema that covers procurement, core preparation, blank production and tool production (Ballin et al 2018, 30–1). It represents a significant step forward in understanding hunter-gather lithic technology and manufacture in the region. Based on the assemblage, Nicol and Ballin (2019) suggest that the schema focused on the production of microblades and narrow broadblades by the application of soft-hammer percussion, most likely pressure-flaking. The application of bipolar technique appears infrequently; it is argued that the flawed nature of jasper/carnelian made soft-hammer percussion more successful for the production of single- and opposed-platform cores as well as the blades/microblade . Such variations to reduction strategies in response to the size and quality of available raw materials is seen across Scotland (Finlay et al 2002, 108). However, it seems that bipolar technique was less frequently used in eastern Scotland compared with western Scotland, such as at West Challoch. This is possibly because the flint pebbles generally available in western Scotland are smaller than those found along the Scottish east coast (Ballin forthcoming b).

In many respects, from procurement through to production, the use of jasper/carnelian appears to have created a notable local Mesolithic signature that is regionally distinct from contemporary sites on the east and west coasts of Scotland where flint exploitation is more dominant. Although parallels can be found on the west coast where flint was locally supplemented by visually distinct raw materials including pitchstone, bloodstone and baked mudstone, at the time of writing the use of jasper/carnelian remains specific to the River Tay communities.