Object of the month – Oldest and smallest

A bit of a cheat this month as I am featuring two objects not one. They are both made from (broadly) the same material, flint and are both what we call prehistoric. They are the oldest and the smallest flint tools we have found while excavating sites on trust land in the Wessex Region or I should say ‘old’ Wessex region as we are now joined with Devon and Cornwall and are the South West region and I still haven’t seen everything from those two counties.

The oldest and the smallest

The oldest and the smallest (2cm Scale)

The oldest tool from the Upper Palaeolithic  (12000 to 40000  years old) was found in High Wood on the Kingston lacy Estate in Dorset, during an excavation of an enclosure in the woods. It has a beautiful patina on the surface and amber areas were the soil conditions have stained it. I remember finding it in the semi darkness under the trees in a yellowish orange clay. At the time all I knew was that it was a large flint  tool, but was not sure of its date. Phil Harding at Wessex Archaeology, ‘as seen on TV’ (Time Team fame) did the flint identifying and report on all the flint from the site and was very pleased to say it was a special find 🙂

Upper Palaeolithic Tool 12000 to 40000 years old

Upper Palaeolithic Tool 12000 to 40000 years old

He says ‘The importance of this object lies in its discovery. There is nothing of a similar age at the site to confirm occupation of the hill at this time although the presence of iron staining makes it likely that it represents a casual loss or was discarded at the site rather than a curio that was picked up by occupants of the later prehistoric/Romano-British enclosure. Traces of Upper Palaeolithic occupation are known from Dorset but they are nevertheless rare, and all discoveries, including individual pieces such as this, add to and confirm the distribution of human groups in this period.’  So someone left it on the hill all those years ago, I wonder what they saw as they looked out across the estate that was yet to be.

The second object is our smallest, a Portland chert (a type of flint) barb from the Mesolithic period (6000 to 10000 years ago) excavated at Thorncombe Beacon on the West Dorset coast, the site  would have been many miles inland in the Mesolithic period (coastal erosion has cut the cliff back to where it is today) It is so small and every side has been reworked. Small half-moon chips have been flaked from it to sharpen the sides, how did they hold it to do the work on it! Any flint knappers out there let me know.

Mesolithic Portland chert barb

Mesolithic Portland chert barb

It would have been hafted into a wooden rod along with others to make the barbs on an arrow shaft.

Our little barb was used last year by an artist Simon Ryder as part of the  Exlab Project http://exlab.org.uk/ he worked with Southampton University and produced a ‘pelt’ of the barb and a larger scale 3D print in resin.

Part of Simon Ryder Exlab exhibition featuring the mesolithic barb, the 'pelt'

Part of Simon Ryder Exlab exhibition featuring the Mesolithic barb, the ‘pelt’

The 3D print of the microlith barb, part of Simon Ryders exhibition

The 3D print of the microlith barb, part of Simon Ryder’s exhibition

2 thoughts on “Object of the month – Oldest and smallest

  1. Regarding the ability to knap a microlith, the cleverness and art of the knapper is preparing the tool in part before striking it off a larger flake. Then there’s the fine art of pressure flaking. Dexterity and good eyes!

    • Thanks Dave. I had a go at knapping and ended up with loads of cuts all over my hands! I would have been put to work on another job 🙂 I am pretty good at weaving and spinning. mmmm are lads better at knapping than girls? I only know male knappers where are the girls 🙂

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