This material is a mainstay of early Holocene assemblages within South East Scotland and is present to some degree within almost all excavated assemblages. Although mainland Scotland has an apparent lack of in situ flint deposits, flint pebbles have a widespread distribution around the coast. Significant chalk deposits also underlie the North Sea (Gemmell and Kesel 1977, 66). Similarly, glacial till deposits containing flint, such as the Buchan gravels, are also known. The erosion of these sources by marine and glacial action (Piggott and Powell 1949, 160) has led to the creation of many such derived deposits along the length of the East coast, with a concentration known to exist in East Lothian (Wickham-Jones and Collins 1978).

It is likely that the majority of coastal lithic assemblages are composed of material that was previously eroded into the sea from the local glacial till and then redistributed upon the shoreline. The tendency for such till deposits to be mixed with other materials (Wickham-Jones 1986, 2) such as chert, chalcedony and quartz would support this origin. A smaller proportion of the flint may also have been derived from the erosion of submerged chalk deposits and from such tills that are also now covered by the North Sea. Other sources of raw material would include locally available river cuts and exposures along the coastline at East Barns.

Photograph of 14 stone lithics on a black background.
Lithics from Brownsbank and Howburn farms, including Upper Palaeolithic tanged points © HES

Though the majority of flint within the regions early Holocene assemblages therefore appears locally derived, this is not always the case. At the Late Hamburgian site of Howburn South Lanarkshire (Ballin et al 2018), the flint component of the assemblage was composed primarily of imported Doggerland/Yorkshire flint alongside a variety of radiolarian cherts, a small percentage of which appeared exotic. This material was likely brought into the Howburn area from now submerged locations in the North Sea (Ballin et al 2018).

There appears to be a preference for working flint during the Mesolithic which can be determined by its ubiquity within lithic assemblages even where the material is locally scarce (Saville 2004 185). Flint is present even within the lithic assemblages of the Southern Uplands in areas such as central Dumfries and Galloway (Finlayson 1990a) and the Upper Tweed Valley (Warren 2005), where good quality chert forms the mainstay of many assemblages.

Flint appears to dominate the large lithic assemblage recovered at the coastal house sites of East Barns, East Lothian and Howick, Northumberland. However, this dominance is not reflected within the assemblages of other sites of the Forth Littoral such as Echline Fields and Cramond where good quality chert replaces it as the main material utilised.

illustration depicting cores found at echline fields
Echline fields cores, scrapers and edge retouch © Headland Archaeology

Given the ubiquity of flint it would appear to head a hierarchy of raw materials utilised during the Mesolithic. This material seems to produce the highest frequencies of microliths and blades within assemblages, followed by chert, which produces a higher frequency of flakes, with finally quartz which does not yield substantial amounts of conventional blades (Finlayson 2004: 223). Nevertheless, the evidence from the regions lithic assemblages suggests that the primary concern of Mesolithic populations in their choice of raw materials reflect issues of local availability, combined with the relatively good quality and utility of the supplementary materials occurring within South East Scotland.