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. 


A Late Neolithic butchery site in Orkney

Winter storms exposed a spread of animal bone and stone tools at Skaill Bay next to Skara Brae, Orkney. Most of the bone was of red deer and the stone tools were Skaill knives – flakes made from sandstone cobbles.

Here is the plan of the site showing the arcs and groups of Skaill knives around the deer bone . The butchering was carried out away from the main settlement at Skara Brae.

For a full story the publication by Richards et al ‘Containment, closure and red deer: a Late Neolithic butchery site at Skaill Bay, Orkney’ can be accessed here

Ground stone from Isle of Man Meolithic

Oxford Archaeology North  recently excavated a Mesolithic house at Cass ny Hawin 2, Isle of Man. This house had burnt down leaving charred timbers and quantities of burnt hazelnut shell as well as the flint and stone tools lying where they were last placed before the conflagration.

The stone tools formed a fascinating collection including three unusual ground stones; bevelled pebbles and elongated hammerstones; several hammerstones or anvils as well as smoothers/rubbers; a dimpled cobble, and a grinding slab. A collection of distinctive, large, rounded cobbles was also made.  These tools were used, or placed, in an organised manner within the structure and the spatial analysis of the finds is explored in the report.

The publication of the site is expected soon but for now I want to share images of one of the ground stone tools.

This fine stone tool was made from an oval cobble of medium-grained sandstone and it was shaped by pecking and grinding to form a fine bifacial bevelled edge around the perimeter of the cobble. Both faces have been ground at slight inward angles to form a splayed long-section and are slightly concave in cross-section.

The bevels are particularly defined on the long edges of the cobble where they have been very finely ground to form a curved cross-section with a sharp edge. A distinctive feature is the raised ribbed pattern worked on the surface of the ground bevels on either side. When observed side-on these ridges are angled to form chevrons with the sharp edge of the bevel as the central spine The ridges or ribs are clearly linked with how the edges were ground – and it seems likely that the edge was grooved in this pattern prior to use or further shaping. The placing of these grooves may have been to provide purchase for a substance being processed, or as decoration, or perhaps as a means of decorating another surface on which this tool was subsequently used. These ridges have then been worn to a smooth and rounded finish or in some cases are quite flattened with further working.

Just what this tool was used for can only be guessed at but the distinctive features which include a finely bevelled edge with surface preparation in the form of a clear pattern of grooves suggests that it was manufactured for a very specific purpose. On its own, this finely-shaped object could be interpreted at many levels – it may not be a tool and instead could have been shaped as a decorative or symbolic object. However, there are two other pieces of ground stone which share some characteristics such as the flat faces and bifacially bevelled edges with this object but neither have been so finely altered to shape and this would suggest a more utilitarian use for the ground stone.

There are as yet no parallels for this tool form at other sites, Mesolithic or later. The closest published comparison is the perforated and ground stone disc from Nab Head Site 2 (David and Walker 2004, Figure 17.17.4). Despite the lack of a perforation on the Cass ny Hawin 2 example as well as a different outline in plan there is close similarity in the profile of the bifacially ground angled edge around the perimeter of both pieces. This is not to say that that these artefacts were made to be used in the same way – this is highly unlikely. However, it is perhaps evidence that the template for a regular bifacially ground edge existed and across regions and time though whether it was a functional or stylistic device cannot be determined yet. Of note is the decorative grooving forming raised chevrons around the spine of the bevelled edges of the Ronaldsway object which does not occur on the disc from Nab Head.

Stone discs from Cromarty Medieval Burgh, Scotland

An unusual assemblage of 148 flat stone discs was recovered during excavations at Cromarty Medieval Burgh  Many were found in middens and shell middens dating to the 13th and 14th Centuries.

Stone discs from Medieval Cromarty. Photo by Ann Clarke
Stone discs from Medieval Cromarty. Photo by Ann Clarke

The discs were quickly made by selecting whole or split cobbles and then flaking them coarsely around the perimeter to form a roughly circular outline. The intention seems to have been to produce a sub-polygonal to sub-circular disc with a flat cross-section. They range in size from 20mm to 120mm in diameter but there are distinct concentrations around 60mm and 80mm.

Were they used as stoppers for vessels such as pottery jars or perhaps baskets? Could they be net weights? The quantity of discs is unusual at Medieval Scottish/British sites and suggests they may be linked to some sort of on-site processing/storage activity.

Anvils/Crushers from Medieval Cromarty. Photo by Ann Clarke
Anvils/Crushers from Medieval Cromarty. Photo by Ann Clarke

Some of the discs were thicker and heavier than the rest and appeared to have traces of pecking on one face. Perhaps they were used as anvils or to crush material.

Does anyone know of similar assemblages in Europe? If you do then I’d love to hear from you using the contact details through my website.

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
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
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
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