Wednesday morning, to be precise. I set off on a trip into the uncharted territory otherwise known as the East Riding, to collect some flint samples. This wasn’t quite the epic trek it would have been from Preston because we were over in Scarborough for New Year.
The samples are for Vicki and Matt’s PhD student Aine, who is using a range of different spectroscopic techniques to look at which trace elements are present in prehistoric flint tools. The idea is that the trace elements in different flint outcrops ought to vary enough to allow her to identify which flint sources were used to make the tools. She has already sampled a whole range of flint tools but she also needs samples from as wide a range of flint sources as possible. Hence my trip down into the East Riding, and specifically to the chalk cliffs around Flamborough Head.
This is the sample site Aine had chosen, North Landing, just to the north of Flamborough Head itself. It is a tiny north-east facing cove with what must be a delightful beach in the summer. At ten o clock on the last day of the year it was deserted except for a very few hardy dog walkers and me.
Down at sea level it was exactly as cold as it looks in this photo. My job was to walk along the cliffs looking for outcropping flint, pick up as many loose bits as possible and link the samples to identified parts of the outcrop.
As you can see in this photo there are bands of flint showing in the chalk at the base of the cliffs on the north side of the bay. These layers are very pale grey and opaque. They are quite chert-like in overall appearance and the bits I picked up didn’t look to be very good quality. I collected them anyway, although I am not confident that they would have made good stone tools.
There were some much finer, black flint nodules lying around on the beach but it wasn’t until I looked in the debris from this recent cliff fall, also on the north side of the bay, that I spotted where this flint was coming from. I picked up lots of glassy black flint from within this pile of mud and chalk. There was clearly a band of the finer grade flint right up at the top of the chalk. I got lots of bits of both types of flint, hopefully Aine will be able to make sense of it all.
I had a Frank Sutcliffe moment on the way back up the slipway, cobles in the morning light awaiting their turn at the shoals of herring.