The analysis of lithic artefacts has dominated our interpretations of the Mesolithic in northern England. This is no surprise, as lithics make up the bulk of the archaeological evidence for the period. Many thousands of lithics are found in upland areas and it is these finds that largely constitute our Mesolithic upland 'sites'. Though evidence for the Mesolithic is commonly held to be scarce or limited, the 'worth' of stone tools as a means of interpreting the lifeways of past Mesolithic people is quite remarkable. We have used lithics to make interpretations regarding economy, settlement patterns, landscape use (Milner and Woodman 2005; Conneller and Warren 2006; Donahue and Lovis 2003; Zvelebil 2003) and even the relationship between lithics and personhood (Fowler 2004; Cobb 2005) or gender (Finlay 2003).
Yet with few exceptions (among others Dumont 1988; Finlayson and Mithen 1997; Donahue and Burroni 2004) microwear studies, a key source of analysis across Europe and beyond, has received little recognition with regard to studying stone tools from Mesolithic Britain (for a general vision of Western Europe, Juel Jensen 1988; Ibáñez and González 2003). Where microwear has been carried out, there is often a focus on a small number of retouched tools which conform to clear typological categories at the expense of studying less clearly recognisable material, despite the knowledge now available that such pieces were used as tools (Hardy and Shiel 2008). Perhaps there are legitimate reasons for this, such as the nature of the lithic record, but archaeologists are in a better position than most to appreciate the power a cultural tradition can hold. We know that, like the peoples we study, the ways in which we approach the past are clearly defined by our regional and local traditions, the overarching ideology of archaeological research, and what is considered important, timely or topical at any given time. Our research into lithics has been extensive, yet our methodologies have been, quite naturally, limited by both our spheres of experience and by widely accepted ideas.
With these issues in mind, this project makes an explicit attempt to apply a method of analysis from a different research tradition, based heavily on microwear studies, to a 'typical' British Mesolithic site. The method used in this study derives from microwear and form-functional analysis applied to lithic assemblages from Tierra del Fuego, used in work undertaken by an Argentinean team focusing on material from the earliest hunter-gatherer-fisher occupations (Orquera and Piana 1999; Álvarez 2003; 2004; Álvarez and Briz 2006) and by an Argentinean-Catalonian team focusing on the historic period (Piana et al. 1992; Estévez and Vila 1996a and 1996b; Vila et al. 1996; Clemente 1997; Vila et al. 1997; Briz et al. 2005; Estévez et al. 2007).
Here we offer a general outline of the methodology developed for our lithic analysis (Briz 2004; 2005; in press), give some preliminary results, and then reflect upon the process and its outcomes. Analysis and interpretation is ongoing and so only the initial results are presented here.
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Last updated: Wed Jul 29 2009