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.

A Bronze Age Cemetery

Recent excavations at Crieff, Perthshire by CFA-Archaeology Ltd have revealed a Bronze Age funerary complex.  A circular cemetery was identified from a cluster of cists, pits, post holes and cremation deposits whilst some 15m to the south there was a separate group of cremation pits and inverted Cordoned Urn burials.

Beautiful and unusual stone objects formed part of the funerary ritual including groups of barbed-and-tanged arrowheads, a perforated stone pendant and stone tools.

A group of seven barbed-and-tanged arrowheads from Cremation Pit 10, Broich Road, Crieff. Photo by Woody Musgrove
A group of seven barbed-and-tanged arrowheads from Cremation Pit 10, Broich Road, Crieff. Photo by Woody Musgrove

A group of seven barbed-and-tanged arrowheads were placed on the cremated bone deposits interred in a large pit in the southern group of features. These arrowheads are in a particular style – based on the use of the Kilmarnock arrowhead template as defined by Stephen Green.  However, there is clear variation within this group in terms of flint colour, size, shaping technique and finished shape which may indicate that at least two or maybe three persons contributed to their manufacture.

Ann Clarke
A group of three barbed-and-tanged arrowheads from Cist 5, Broich Road, Crieff. Photo by Ann Clarke

Another group of three barbed-and-tanged arrowheads of burnt flint was found amongst the cremated remains placed in a Cist from the circular cemetery. The finest arrowhead is narrow and elongated in form and is most similar to Green’s Sutton C type whilst the other two arrowheads are smaller but too heavily damaged from burning to classify.

Are these arrowheads a representation of a hunting kit, not owned by the deceased but made especially for the cremation ritual? Joanna Bruck has commented on the role of artefacts which accompany Early Bronze Age funeral ritual and proposes that they should be viewed as gifts from the mourners representing the character of the inter-personal relationships between them and the deceased. The multiple authorship of the arrowheads from Broich might indicate a small group of people contributing their personally-made gifts to the deceased.

Ann Clarke www.annrocks.co.uk
Stone pendant found within a Cordoned Urn, Broich Rd, Crieff. Photo by Ann Clarke

What should we make of this stone pendant found within an inverted Cordoned Urn? This slender, finely-shaped object has been ground all over to form smooth, slightly curved ends, sides and faces with additional grinding down the four long edges to produce distinctive bevels. The perforation is made at one end by twisting or drilling to form a biconical hole. There is subsequent wear around the perforation which is complex and comprises a distinctive reshaping of the outer edge at either end of the perforation and on both faces. Just how this wear pattern was produced is not known; it could not be the product of the pendant simply dangling from a cord as the lower edge is also worn. A possible scenario is for a loop of cord or thin leather to have been pushed through the perforation and then held in place, perhaps with a toggle placed across the width of the pendant. The stone object could then have slid up and down the cord, either deliberately or incidentally through body movement thereby forming the friction-induced wear pattern observed on the pendant.

Ann Clarke www.annrocks.co.uk
Cobble tool with ground facet from Cremation 10, Broich Rd, Crieff. Photo Woody Musgrove.

Stone tools were also found amongst the deposits in the same cremation pit as the group of seven barbed-and-tanged arrowheads.

A cobble with a fine ground facet on one end may have been used to crush the cremated bone.

Ann Clarke www.annrocks.co.uk
Stone tool with a ground, faceted side from Cremation 10, Broich Rd, Crieff. Photo by Woody Musgrove.

On this flat cobble two distinctive linear facets have been worn down one side; these are smooth through use as a possible whetstone and they form distinct ridges.

Other flint and stone artefacts were  found and a full excavation report will be published soon. In the meantime a lecture on the findings from the cemetery at Broich Road, Crieff was given by Dr Mel Johnson of CFA-Archaeology Ltd to the Archaeological Research in Progress conference 2015.  This has been made available online through Archaeology Scotland http://www.archaeologyscotland.org.uk/news/arp-conference-great-success-talks-available-watch


A decorated stone disc from Ness of Brodgar, Orkney

Work is underway looking at the stone tool assemblages from the Neolithic site at Ness of Brodgar, Orkney. As well as a large number of flaked lithics there is a substantial assemblage of larger stone tools including axes, maceheads, ground stone spatulate tools, cobble tools, Skaill knives, stone discs and a wide range of grinding stones and polissoirs.

This stone disc showed its true colours during a gentle wash to remove some mud. As it glistened in the light fine scratches became visible. The lines are faint and it was difficult to catch a clear image as the raked light also caught the natural roughness of the stone’s surface.

One face had been incised with a pair of opposed triangles – the distinctive ‘Brodgar butterfly’ design. A closer look reveals other fine lines forming triangles.


The Ness of Brodgar is rich in decorated stonework and it is particularly found on structural stones within the buildings. Antonia Thomas is currently researching the dressed and decorated stone from Ness of Brodgar as part of her PhD at Orkney College and you can find more about her work in the September/October 2014 issue of British Archaeology.

The study of the stone artefact assemblages is being carried out by Mark Edmonds, Hugo Anderson-Whymark and Ann Clarke as part of a larger Leverhulme funded research project – Working stone; making communities – based at the University of York.





Worked ochre from Mesolithic sites

Ochre is a mixture of fine clay and iron oxide and it often occurs in conjunction with iron ores such as haematite. Though it occurs at many prehistoric sites in Britain it is usually present in only small numbers. Recent excavations by Oxford Archaeology North at the  Late Mesolithic site of Stainton, Cumbria has uncovered a very large assemblage of 582 pieces of ochre. This included  47 pieces with traces of working and several others with residue adhering to the surface.

The wear traces are visible as striations, gouge marks, grooves and worn faces and combinations of these various wear traces often occurred together on the larger or complete pieces.  Only a few pieces of ochre appear to have been used for sustained rubbing – enough at least to alter the profile of the lump significantly. The heaviest wear traces were made by gouging and the marks were formed by pushing a sharp point  into the centre of the ochre face.

A few pieces had a white substance adhering to the surface and SEM analysis by Karen Hardy, ICREA, Barcelona University has shown it to be an aluminium silicate, most likely kaolin.

There are many uses ascribed to ochre though few if any can be directly identified at archaeological sites.  Ochre is a strongly coloured red or orange pigment which can be rubbed on to an object in order to colour it. It can be used either dry or wet but when a lump of ochre or haematite is rubbed with water the colour is released very easily as a red viscous liquid reminiscent of blood and which can be applied like paint (Isbister 2000). As well as a decorative application ochre can also be used in the preparation of hides (ibid) and Hodgkiss (2010) notes that high iron content preserves leather. Isbister records many ethnographic applications of ochre in medicine and healing (Isbister 2000, 2009). Kaolin also has many and varied uses and in ways similar to or complementary with ochre. These materials were clearly used together at Stainton as demonstrated by the fragments of ochre with kaolin adhering to them but without supporting residue evidence from other materials it would be futile to speculate on their exact uses.

The assemblage of ochre from Stainton is the largest and most informative yet from an excavated Mesolithic site in Britain and the distinctive range of wear traces demonstrates that ochre (and kaolin) was used in a variety of ways and most likely for different jobs. The large size of the assemblage together with the range of uses could indicate that craft, manufacturing and processing activities at this site were carried out in an intensive way;  perhaps highly organised  into specialised areas for e.g. hafting and hide working.

Cromarty Medieval Burgh Community Archaeology Project

This is a great Community Archaeology Project run by Mary Peteranna and Steve Birch. Medieval Cromarty is being rediscovered with the help of volunteers of all ages. Ceramics, mammal and fish bones, and a number of intriguing stone discs have been recovered already. The rotary querns in the photographs were placed in walls and floors of the buildings. For more information go to http://www.medievalcromarty.org