A Lithics Handbook

This handbook was created for Mesolithic Deeside to help the members identify and record the stone tools collected during their fieldwalking in Aberdeenshire.

It looks at the whys and hows of recognising worked flint before providing the details of what to record.

It is illustrated throughout and available to download for free from the British Archaeological Jobs and Resources website:


Stone Tools from Ness of Brodgar


At Ness of Brodgar rocks from sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic sources were worked to produce a wide range of different artefact types by flaking, pecking, grinding and polishing. Alongside distinctive and sometimes elaborate axeheads, pillow stones, maceheads, and spatulate forms, the assemblage contains many tools that are the product of working and shaping other artefacts and processing different materials. These tools are central to our understanding of how the site was occupied: the nature and organisation of activities and the extent of links with other Neolithic sites in Orkney. 

The large assemblage from the Ness of Brodgar contains numerous different tool types, several of which have not previously been recognised, or else are scarce, at other Neolithic sites in Orkney. In all, a total of 1205 stone artefacts have been recorded from the 2004-2019 excavation seasons.  

Read more here: Ann Clarke, 2020 Stone Tools from Ness of Brodgar in N. Card, M. Edmonds and A. Mitchell (eds) The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands. 224-243. 


Tuff, flint, and hazelnuts: Final Palaeolithic and Mesolithic occupation at Maryport, Cumbria 

Flint blades

Tuff blades

Evidence for Final Palaeolithic and Mesolithic occupation at Maryport, Cumbria was discovered during excavation of Roman occupation features by CFAArchaeology Ltd. A varied lithic assemblage was recovered including worked flint (55%) and tuff (43%), and the rest comprised a small amount of chert, chalcedony, and rhyolite. Early occupation, probably dating to the Final Palaeolithic Federmesser-Gruppen is demonstrated through different technological styles amongst the lithic assemblage. Three phases of occupations were identified from the cut features and there was a significant amount of charred hazelnut shell which gave radiocarbon dates centring around 8200 cal BC.  

This site provides the first clear evidence that tuff was exploited directly from sources in the Central Lake District, possibly as early as the Final Palaeolithic. The occupations also demonstrate intensive processing of hazelnuts centring around 8200 cal BC and lasting for 150 – 558 years. The dates and occupation span are almost identical to those derived from the Mesolithic structure at Cass ny Hawin 2 on the Isle of Man. 

Read more at: Ann Clarke and Magnus Kirby 2020 Tuff, flint, and hazelnuts: Final Palaeolithic and Mesolithic occupation at Netherhall Road, Maryport, Cumbria 

Rhyolite exploitation in the Cairngorms

Excavations At Chest of Dee, Aberdeenshire have recorded the use of rhyolite for flaked stone tools during the Mesolithic, c.8200BC. Analysis of the flaked lithics suggests that the rhyolite was exploited directly from exposures of this igneous rock. Nearby the site a stream cuts through a vein of rhyolite  – perhaps blocks of this stone were collected here and brought to the occupation beside the waterfall to work into tools.

Read more at:

Wickham-Jones, C.R., Noble, G., Fraser, S.M., Warren, G., Tipping, R., Paterson, D., Mitchell, W., Hamilton, D., Clarke, A. 2020 New Evidence for Upland Occupation in the Mesolithic of Scotland.  Proceedings Prehistoric Society, 86.

On Tweeting, Freelancing and the Axe Factor

A Neolithic sandstone flake from Ness of Brodgar, Orkney. Photograph © Woody Musgrove

Tweeting suits me. Write a short message, rip it off the notepad and throw it out there. And repeat. Some messages drop straight to the ground. Others flap around before landing. Occasionally they get taken up in a gust and are blown every which way before disappearing.

I took to Twitter @annclarkerocks to promote my work over a year ago. As a freelance archaeologist you only have yourself to bring in the work. Over the years I’ve developed a website, sent out advertising postcards to Commercial Units across the UK, dabbled with LinkedIn – too corporate, and Facebook – just a confusing guddle of information. The regular promotional platform, the conference, has always been difficult for me in the past – cost, access, the childcare issue, not having anything zippy to say, as well as sitting quietly in a darkened room for hours listening to frequent uninspiring talks all combine to make this a networking nightmare for me, and many other people! Whether I’ve attracted any extra work as a result of the self-promotion is a moot point but like all archaeology businesses we need to get our name out there and hopefully to people who want work from us.

I particularly love using Twitter as a platform to share images of the fabulous range of stone tools that I work on. As well as flaked lithics of all materials and ages, I research stone tools which are much more diverse in form, and use, than flaked tools. Have a look through my Twitter feed – you will be amazed at all the ways stone was shaped into tools in the past.

I’m glad that many folk have liked and commented on these images over the last year. Many of you will have been introduced to particular tool forms for the very first time and I consider that a job well done. It’s good to share.

But what interests me most is how the Twitter audience likes, and engages with, the familiar. I call this the Axe Factor. A quick look through the statistics of my feed shows that of the 100 odd tweets about stone tools of all sorts, the most liked and engaged with were the six images of ground stone axeheads – and the two polissoirs. Other favourites were also ground stone tool forms such as the spatulate tools and ground stone knives – both axehead look-alikes.

Why this strong engagement with the familiar? And what makes axeheads so familiar in the first place? I would consider several of the tool forms I have tweeted about to be of greater importance to the study of the past than stone axeheads: the ground stone from the Mesolithic structure Cass ny Hawin 2, Isle of Man; the huge assemblage of Mesolithic worked ochre from Stainton West, Cumbria; and the Bronze Age ‘handled clubs’ from Shetland, to name but a few.  But these are not in the public imagination because the Axe Factor is a direct result of showing off our past as bling; promoting those objects perceived to be most powerful and authoritative; often the most photogenic; and through this maintaining the fiction of archaeology as ‘treasure’.

This came back to bite us very recently during the recent Cadbury debacle. In this case Twitter was the perfect platform to express the collective dismay of archaeologists. But how did we get it so wrong to start with that a large company felt able to promote our heritage in this damaging way? Despite all our professed public engagement will we ever be able to tweak the public perception of archaeology from Treasure Hunting to engaging with and taking an informed interest in our shared past.

And can we really use social media to promote new knowledge?

I leave you with a mighty image by Woody Musgrove of a simple sandstone flake from Neolithic Orkney. Is this bling? You decide.