The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I have been looking at the worked stone from last summer’s dig on trench K, it may have made my brain leak out of my ears. There are 1425 pieces of chert and flint from this small trench (I know because I spent most of yesterday counting them). This is the result of all the careful digging and sieving that Jasmine’s team did over the summer.

DSC_0104They divided the trench up into 1 m squares, that is what the orange string is for in the photograph, and took the soil off in 5 cm deep layers within each square.Soil from each layer in each square was put through 5 mm mesh sieves, so we should have caught every piece of worked stone bigger than that. Importantly, we should also know to the nearest metre where it all came from.

The chert and flint was left by people making prehistoric stone tools. I’ve posted before about how this works but it basically involves the skilled bashing of one kind of stone with another. This leaves several different kinds of evidence behind.


First, of course you get the finished tools themselves, this is one of the rare examples in flint from trench K. It is an awl, probably for making holes in leather. Apologies for the very poor quality photos, which were all grabbed on my phone while I was doing the counting.


Here is a broken bit of another, part of a blade in a very fine dark chert.


All this bashing also makes waste flakes in very large quantities. With a consistent raw material like flint then the waste flakes are just a diagnostic as the tools. However, the chert used at New Laund varies enormously in quality. Some is so smooth and hard that it is almost like glass. We get beautiful flakes out of this stuff that even I can tell are worked.


However, some is less good. This is another chert blade from trench K. It is grainy and lumpy and frankly a bit of a mess. Working a stone like this produces less neat little flakes and more jagged lumps and frustration. About 60% of the stone found in trench K is probably best classified as ‘manky lumps’ ( I’m sure specialists have a technical term for it). We have kept all this stuff because there are also obvious tools made out of equally unpromising looking pieces of rock.

NL13-K grad

This leads back to the broader question of what all these little bits of stone tell us. This is a small area of the hill (the trench was only 3 m by 3 m) where a very large amount of stone tool making took place. We are keen to do some more digging in this area. Mike’s gradiometer survey showed that there are what look like very big pits just to the north and east of trench K (these are the black splodges on the plot above).

I’m particularly interested in places where lots of stone tools were made. One of the ways that we think that the memory of significant places was kept alive in prehistory was through repeated performances. Watching people making and learning to make stone tools could have been exactly this sort of performance, especially if it was repeated over and over again at particular times of the year. This means we need to go back to this area, dig up more of this evidence and analyse it more thoroughly. We need to see if we can tell if different people were working here, perhaps at different times, or with different levels of skill. We would like to see if we can pick apart how many performances there were on this spot and how they all related to each other and the wider landscape.


  1. interesting to see how the ditch fits in with the contour

    • I know – it must run right along that break of slope, which of course would be the top of the slope that goes down to the River Hodder. I was talking to some Medievalists while I was in Ireland and they thought it looked convincing as a deer park boundary. We should dig it next year too.

  2. This is such amazingly detailed, meticulous work! You must be driven to do this kind of work. I always wanted to be an archaeologist, but it never worked out that way for me. Perhaps its for the best; I don’t think I have that attention to detail, or patience. I think the past is so much more interesting than the future, because it really happened. I never realised that so many people cared about the past, or that so much archaeology was going on in the world…it’s fascinating, and I love it. Thank you for sharing your work with us..

    • Thanks for following. We do archaeology because we have the strange kind of brains that find this kind of thing fun to do, but really it’s only worth doing if people are interested in the results.

      • Yes, we are very interested! I watched the film about the latest Irish bog body find on youtube last night (the last few minutes were missing, so I did not see the conclusions). I guess these bog bodies grab all the attention, but there is something fascinating about staring into the faces of our real 4000yr old ancestors. What is your opinion? Are all these bodies human sacrifices? Couldn’t they be victims of crimes or battles?

  3. I see a few potential excavations there next year, especially the series of negative features forming a possible curvilinear to the north west of trench K

  4. There’s a fantastic display about these bog bodies in the National Museum in Dublin. One of the things that points to them being sacrifices, rather than just random dead bodies preserved by the peat, is where they are found. The majority of the Irish ones come from bogs on the boundary between early medieval lordships, it is believed that these territories existed in the Iron Age too and the sacrifices were part of the way that conflicts between different lordships were worked out.

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