Working Stone, Making Communities

Very pleased to announce the the launch of a web resource for prehistoric stone tools in Orkney .

The results of a three year Leverhulme-funded project led by Professor Mark Edmonds together with Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark, Ann Clarke and Dr Antonia Thomas are presented with fabulous images and descriptions of a multitude of different stone tools and flaked lithics from the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age

Stone tools from an Early Iron Age souterrain at Windwick, South Ronaldsay, Orkney

A fine assemblage of stone tools including saddle querns, quern rubbers and cobble tools was found during recent excavations at Windwick by Martin Carruthers, University of the Highlands and Islands.

The stone tools were used for the construction of the souterrain and above ground structure as well as for activities within the completed buildings. There appears to be some reuse of an earlier assemblage of pounder/grinders to build the souterrain as demonstrated by the reuse patterns on some of the tools. We cannot be sure just what the stone tools were used for within the souterrain but several, including the saddle querns were broken and the scattered fragments of the refitted pounder/grinder suggest some mobility of the fragments in antiquity. Above ground, the stone tools appear to have been reused in structural cuts and fills whilst the presence of the pumice and Skaill knife in above ground layers suggests the possibility of different activities to that below ground.

Saddle querns and quern rubbers form quite large assemblages at some sites of this date and at High Pasture Cave, Skye they were an important feature of the closing deposits of the Early Iron Age use of the cave (Steven Birch pers.comm.). At Bayanne, Shetland; and Mine Howe and Howe in Orkney saddle querns were also numerous but found outwith their main context of use in redeposited structural contexts or even reused as anvils or tethering stones. The saddle querns at Windwick, though broken appear to be in primary deposits and it is possible that these, together with the broken cobbles represent some kind of closing deposit.

Stone tools from Orkney and Shetland

Coarse stone tools are frequent finds at prehistoric sites in Orkney and Shetland. A whole range of tools was made and used for diverse jobs such as butchering, flint knapping, craft work, agriculture, storage and food processing.

These stone assemblages are often large, dominated by particular tool types and are found at many different types of site including both funerary and domestic settings.

Recent research into the contexts of these various tools from sites across the Northern Isles has demonstrated aspects of continuity and change within and between assemblages. This variability within the artefactual record can be interpreted at  broader level in order to assess the social implications which these patterns may represent.

You can read more at:

Clarke, A 2006 Stone tools and the Prehistory of the Northern Isles British Archaeological Report, 406.


Craft specialisation in the Mesolithic


Recent excavations at  sites in Northern Britain have added to the repertoire of coarse stone tools known to have been in use during the Mesolithic. By analysing the distinctive wear traces on all the coarse stone tools from a site and by examining their context of deposition it has been possible to identify areas on site where specific activities were being carried out. Coarse stone tools appear to have been subject to some form of structured use and deposition and this appears in the archaeological record in three ways: by the dominance or single use of a particular tool type;  by the presence of discrete deposits of tools; or by a combination of both.  The evidence suggests that some sites were used for specific craft or processing activities over time, whilst other sites were used for multiple activities, perhaps related to repeated visits.

The full article is published as:

 Clarke, A 2009 ‘Craft specialisation in the Mesolithic of Northern Britain: the evidence from the coarse stone tools’, in N Finlay; S McCarten; N Milner and CR Wickham-Jones 2009 From Bann Flakes to Bushmills, Oxbow and can be downloaded here:

Experimental Archaeology

A project in experimental archaeology, Avasjo, Sweden

This involved a week in Lapland partaking of activities appropriate to a hunter/ gatherer lifestyle: setting camp, making and using stone and bone tools, skinning and butchering a reindeer, cooking and preserving meat, preparing hides, making cooking pits, walking in the wildwood.

A film of this experience can now be found on youtube: