1. Introduction

There are many theories explaining later prehistoric 'trade' and 'exchange systems' in stone artefacts. Evidence matching the petrographic information of transported implements with the country rock where 'factories' produced flaked stone axes is felt to be compelling. Laboratory implement source provenancing by petrography is felt to have been particularly successful in Britain. Similar source provenancing programmes have been undertaken elsewhere, including one that apparently demonstrates the dispersal of Neolithic jadeite axes from the Alps (see Giligny this issue). Consequently, throughout Europe it is widely believed that the only way 'factory' rock could have reached the places where artefacts have been found was by human carriage.

Long-distance trading and gift-exchanging are at present the explanations most widely accepted to explain the mapped distribution of implements of metamorphic, igneous and sedimentary rocks found far from their primary outcrops within the British Isles and in Continental Europe. Some of the material that follows is updated from documentation that has already appeared in print (particularly Briggs 1991) while other sections derive from unpublished articles (Briggs forthcoming).

The fundamental tenets of belief in human carriage are best summarised as follows:

Neolithic colonists arrived in Britain with sound knowledge of a flint technology. Flint was commonly used in southern Britain, where mines traded it extensively. In northern and western Britain, flint being locally absent, different rocks were selected for use. For example, the early use (between 3,700 and 3,000 bc) of rocks from Graig Lwyd, or Borrowdale. About thirty other different stone types in Britain ('grouped') and ascribed primary outcrop sources by petrography suggest that extensive workshop sites ought to have been in operation by that period. Between about 1930 and 1975, the prevailing theory held that economic need in prehistory was the reason for this transport. Factories having been found, the economic equation was secure. The factory concept then became nuclear to a Neolithic subsistence economy (Clark 1952, 244-54; 1957; 1965). Subsequently, it was explained that the axes were dispersed through 'complex social relationships' (Renfrew 1977), a view championed by Bradley and Edmonds (2005). On occasion, concession has been made to the use of pebbles (Cummins and Moore 1973, 241-2; Fenton 1984). But until recently (Williams-Thorpe et al. 1999; 2003) pebbles of petrographically 'grouped' (i.e. putative 'factory') rocks were not considered to have been utilised in the Neolithic, only 'factory rock' was acceptable. The laboratory provenancing of exotic clasts found in superficial deposits (for example those of Cumbria, N. Wales and Cornwall), although widespread among geologists (Sabine 1949; Williams-Thorpe et al. 1999), is a field of interest virtually ignored by prehistorians, who rarely credit their forbears with an ability to have turned re-cycled material to advantage.

The object of the discussion that follows is to consider the major outstanding questions in a presentation which falls into three parts.

  1. Crusading for the recognition of re-cycled stones 1973-2009
  2. The Collection of Erratics in the 19th Century
  3. Can Stone Axes be made from Erratics?


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