Uncovering one of the largest Mesolithic Sites in the UK
COLOURBuchanflintcanoccurinavarietyofcolours:yellows,redsandbrownspredominateatSkelmuirHill,whereas medium-palegreyflintisdominantatBoddamDen,althoughthisdistinctionisnotsufficientforallocationof a source. ThemaincoloursontheCrathessitearebrown,yellow,red,orange,grey.However,therewasevery combinationinbetween!JamessaidtousetheMundolcharts,butIsoongaveuponthisastherewere variationsincolourinmostpieces,andsomehaddifferentcolourse.gbrownwithablacklayerunderthe cortex.Some very general observations:Whitish tended to be coarser grained and often opaqueOrange/brownish orange tended to be finer grained Palergreyflintstendedtobemorecoarsegrained,whereasthedarkgrey/blacktendedtobefiner grained, some very dark/black was very fine grained, yet in thinner areas almost transparent.Yellow:muchoftheinitiallyyellowflintbecamemuchbrownerovertimewhereassome,ofaricher deeper yellow retained its colour.Red, grey and whitish flint retained its colourSuspect brown/yellowish brownmay become more orange-y over time?Intheend,IdecidedtouseTBallin’s(2014)basiccolourclassificationofbrown-yellow-orange,red,grey,with theaddtionofblackandwhitishforthisreport.Evenso,thisassessmenthastobesubjective,ratherthan objective:eg:decidingwhetheraflintisbrownishgrey(ieGrey)orgreyishbrown(ieBrown)isnotalways easy. Flints designated as ‘whitish’ tended to be more whitish than pale grey.As heat/burning can change the colour of the flint, only unburnt pieces were asessed.
THE SCATTERAlthoughthescatter(seechart)iscontinuoustherearetwomajorintensiveareas,eachwithpossiblyassociated sub-sites:Nether Mills West: NM 1 extending into NM 2,Nether Mills East: extending well into NM 4 and NM 3; includes the JBK dig siteMiltonCottage:lessintensiveandcouldwellextendintothefootballpitcharea,borderedbytheCoyBurn, at the West. It may be a sub-site relating to NMW.ConsequentlyIreferinthisreporttoNethermillsEast(NME),NethermillsWest(NMW),andMiltonCottage(MC)as being simple and logical, rather than the confusing and misleading array of names in Canmore and SMR.(NetherMillsWest:previouslyDurrisBridge(Canmore)andCrathesMains(AbdnshireSMR)bothreferringtothesame collection.AlthoughthebridgeisofficiallytheDurrisBridge,thiscollectionisfromCrathes,notDurris,isatthenorth edge of the field not near the bridge, and is from Nether Mills Farm not Crathes Mains.)ThebulkoftheNetherMillsflintswerefoundalongthemiddleriverterraceexceptforthoseinNM1onan‘island’ ofhighergroundonthelowerterrace.ThisisclosetotheSWedgeofthemiddleterraceandseemstoextendinto theEedgeofMC.ThematerialfromMCwasmostlyonthehigherareasalongtheriverbank(iethelower terrace).Ingeneraltheriverbraidingisreflectedbythescatterconcentrations,astheyweremostlyonthehigher ground in all five fields (see Google map below).JamesKenworthy’sexcavationwassituatedneartheSWcornerofNM4,anextremelysmallpartofNMEletalone thewholeoftheCrathesscatter.Theconcentrationatthemajorsite,NMW,ismoreintensethanthatatNME.It mustberemembered,however,thatapproximately30,000flintswereremovedfromNMEduringJames’ excavation.
LITHICSThe materialWith the exception of two agate pieces and one anomalous piece, the assemblage was of flint. Thissiliceousstonewasattractivetoprehistoricpeoplebecauseitcanbeworkedinapredictableand repeatablewaytoproducesharpedgesand/ortomanufactureimplements.Itisaveryhardmaterial,andasit isalmostindestructable,thepresenceofworkedflintmaybetheonlyremainingindicationofprehistoric activity.FlintpebblesdonotoccurintheRiverDee (JBK,InterimReport)andJamesreferredto theflintfoundatCrathesasBuchanflint.AlthoughthereareflintminesinBuchanat SkelmuirHillandDenofBoddam,associated withtheNeolithic,itisthoughtthat Mesolithicpeople(8000-4000BC)madeuse ofbeachpebblesalongthecoast,and surfacepebblesinBuchan(DRBridgeland2000)
Fiveyearsoffieldwalkingrevealedacontinuousscatterofflintsthroughthefive fields:1.75kmalongtheriverbankand250mtothenorthinthewidestpart,oneof the largest Mesolithic sites in the UK (Caroline Wickham-Jones 2016, page 50)
Table GR 1: Crathes: Presence/absence of types at each site
Table GR 2: Colour percentages from all unburnt flints at each site
Attribute \ Site
included with red
included with red
Table GR 3: Milton Cottage: Colour percentages from 2008 + 2011
Attribute \ Year
2008 + 2011
Table GR 4:Nethermills West, NM 2: Colour percentages from2010 and 2011
Attribute \ Year
2010 + 2011
Milton Cottage (MC)MCCR 2011Nethermills West (NME)NM 1,1A CR 2008NM 2CR 2011Nethermills East (NMW)NM 3,4CR 2009
The scatterplot, showing the find-point grid references of lithics collected during the years 2008, 2009 and 2011. Field NM 1A is at the north of NM 1.
EvenduringfieldwalkingitwasapparentthattherewasahigherproportionofgreyflintatMCandlater analysisconfirmedthis(TableGR3).However,althoughthepercentageofgreyflintwassubstantiallyhigher thanthatofbrownflintin2008,in2011thebrownflintpercentagewasjustslightlyhigherthanthatofthe grey (Table GR 3). The other colours, as with NMW and NME, were in smaller numbers (Table GR 3).
TheoverallpercentagesofbrownandgreyflintatNethermillsWestandNethermillsEastwereverysimilar, withthebrownflintcomprisemuchthelargestgroup,andthegreyapoorsecond.Otherflintcolourswere lessinevidence.MiltonCottage,however,hadalmostequalproportionsofgreyflint,(butseeTableGR3 below). The remaining flint colours were in low numbers.
Burnt or notPiecesshowingcrazing,crackingwererecordedasburnt,whereasthosewithredtingeswererecordedas slightly burnt. Several ‘pot-lids’ were picked up.Burnt flint was found throughout the area, concentrations possibly reflecting the intensities of the scatters.Numbersmaybeanunderestimateasitispossiblethatflintcanbeheatedwithnonoticeablechangein colour. Heatingcanmaketheflinteasiertowork,butIamnotawareofanyevidenceofthisprocedurehereor elsewhere on Deeside.(This section is in preparation.)
For an overall site comparison the combined flint totals from each site were used to compile the percentages. Table GR 2 comprises the flints from: Milton Cottage: 2008+2011, Nethermills West: NM 1 2008+2012 + NM 2: 2010+2011, Nethermills East: 2009
Colour percentages at each site
Comparison of percentages in different years
In2008,MiltonCottagewasploughedlate,andhadnoweatheringbeforebeingdrilledafewdayslater. Somepiecesseemedtobe‘surfacestained’bythesurroundingsilty/sandysubstratecolour,andsome evenseemedtohaveaverythinlayerofsubstratestronglyadheringtothesurface(Jamessaidthey lookedasiftheyneededagoodscrub!).I’vewonderedsinceiftheseflintshadjustbeenunearthedfor the first time, and they hadn’t been exposed long enough to be ‘cleaned’ by weathering?Thepercentageofgreyflintswaslowerin2011.Maybeanystaining/adheringsubstrateonbrownflints resultedinthemnotbeingsoeasilydiscernablein2008,butnotallflintswereaffected.Nevertheless,this is a large difference between the two years!
(Still to be completed)
ReferenceDRBridgeland(2000)Flint-richgravelsinAberdeenshire,inTheQuaternaryoftheBanffshireCoast&Buchan,Field Guide, edited by J W Merrit, E R Connell & D R Bridgeland. Quaternary Research Association, page 98.
The assemblageDuringtheprocessoftool-making,manywastepiecesareproduced.Wherelargescaleflint-knappinghastaken place, the resulting debitage can form the bulk of a collection, and this was certainly the case in Crathes.Althoughmuchofthematerialisbroken/damaged,allphasesofmanufacturearepresent,fromthepreparation oftherawmaterialtotheproductionoffinishedtools.Cores,mostlysingleplatform,andavarietyofscrapers formpartofthecollection.ThemajorcomponentisofMesolithictechnology.FindsdiagnosticoftheMesolithic includemicrolithsandmicroburins,withthe‘broadblade’(possiblyearlier)technologyrepresentedbylarge wide-basedtrianglesandobliquepoints,andthe‘narrow-blade’(possiblylater)technologybycrescentsand backed bladelets. Three smaller wide-based triangles may be from an intermediate stage. TheothercomponentofthissiteisNeolithic.OurmostspectacularfindwasaveryfineMiddletoLateNeolithic groundandpolishedknife.OtherNeolithicfindsincludetwosmallflakedknives,fourEarlyNeolithicleaf-shaped arrowheads (1 almost whole, 3 broken) and 2 small possible Early Neolithic potsherds (Table GR 1).
The black circles represent the grid references at edge of the field. TheGooglemapshowsNM2,theFieldLabelbuttonindicatesthepositonoftheterraces,theScatterplot buttonshowstheditributionoftheflints,andtheConcentrationbuttongivesthenumberofflintsineach 10m x 10m square, and the Most squares at the edges of the field extend beyond the boundaries.Thescatterisalmosttotallyconfinedtothemiddleterrace,withafewatthebaseofthebankandafew, mostly at the east edge extending part of the way down the eroding edge of the middle terrace.