4. Fry's Hill lithic scatter and generational time

In 1979, members of the local Axbridge archaeology and local history society grid-walked a small field at Fry's Hill, Axbridge (Figure 3). This site was one of many investigated in the area (Everton 1970; 1978). This rectangular field is 21,600m² and near c.225m OD contour line, part of the most western extension of the Mendip Hills, running west to Bleadon Hill near the Severn Estuary (Fig. 1). A total of fifty-four 20m squares yielded 132 lithics, including one Old Red Sandstone hone (Table 4). This lithic assemblage is employed here to investigate how the compositional change in lithics, as presented in Figure 2, may be interpreted in human terms at a particular place: micro-scale.

When considering Table 3 it must be remembered that although each data set is part chronological, there is also a hierarchical order of data quality and resolution. Over the long-term a reduction in lithics is demonstrated, mirroring that across the broader landscape (Fig. 2). This may be seen by dividing the pre- and post-middle Neolithic data: only 20 lithics or 15.2% of the total can be assigned to the four data sets ranging from the middle Neolithic and/or later Neolithic to the indeterminate later Neolithic or early Bronze Age. This represents an overall reduction of 79.3% of artefacts when contrasted with the two earlier Neolithic data sets (n=97). The reduction or increase of lithics at this site can be clarified by combining values from adjacent and overlapping data sets. A degree of contemporary discard can be inferred by uniting two adjacent data sets (Table 3).

When considering the lithic data presented in Table 3, note that a continuous reduction cannot be demonstrated. As elsewhere in the study area (Fig. 2), the data indicates a peak in the earlier Neolithic (Table 3). Before this 'transition' and up to the middle Neolithic, the majority of artefacts are discarded, c.84% (111/132 lithics). The key change here is at the chronologically diagnostic earlier Neolithic and the 'middle Neolithic' data set. After this, the number of lithics per data set declines. This data is interpreted as indicating change over the period c.4300 cal. BC to 2900 cal. BC and to c.2000 cal. BC. The currency of certain lithic typologies and technologies may merge. But the quantity of lithics may be observed and linked to change.

Whilst compositional variability has been traced at Fry's Hill by assigning artefacts to data quality and period sets, the unit of time, that of calendar years is only one way of perceiving change at that place. A move away from categorising artefacts within the Three Age System may help understand how these locales were experienced and perceived by prehistoric actors. History perceived as a lived experience, as anthropologically documented for non-western small scale societies may be useful to consider (Eriksen 1995, 230; Gosden 1994; Ingold 2000, chapter 17). The perception of time in these settings may be viewed in terms of localised processes and events. Perception as experienced by the individual and group, part of the life cycle and ageing process may be useful. Generational time and the use of time averaging (Gamble 2001, 135-136) can be applied. People may have experienced places over generations of visits; previous generations may have informed forager parties of the location, resources and history of the place. The lithic data, presented in Table 5, can be set into a time-frame consistent with human generations.

The generation is time averaged at a twenty-five year interval. Here 'generation' means the average time in which children are ready to replace their parents, commonly set in the modern world as 25-30 years (Hassan 1981, 140-142). Parker Pearson has also given the value of 25 years and this is adopted here (1993, 2). Recent work, summarised by Chamberlain reports on analogy with ethnographic records and living non-western populations indicating extended life expectancy (2000, 102-104, fig. 1). Generational statistics remain estimated within a 25-30 year span but depend on mortality rates for specific populations (ibid., 102). The generational interval is an estimate used here only to demonstrate a potential human perception of time.

Discard rate of artefacts per generation is listed in column 5 of Table 5. This is calculated by division of the quantity of lithics by the number of generations per period, as stated in columns 3 and 4. The data per set is combined to create six groupings. Immediately it is clear the largest number of artefacts is found in the earlier Neolithic to middle Neolithic group (n=97). During this period over thirty-six generations can be inferred. This equates to an average of 2.6 artefacts discarded per generation. Hence, if occasional visits were made to a lithic scatter, this would be perceived as more intense than at any other time. Given the low average number of artefacts discarded after the middle Neolithic it would be highly unlikely if one visited this lithic scatter to witness people working stone and discarding 20 artefacts (Table 5). This equates to one dropped every forty-five years!

The generational time discussed above enables a sense of time and human agency as time-averaged values are established. Moreover, the social theory of the taskscape, dwelling (Ingold 1993) and inhabitation (Hind 2004a; 2004b) is, using this dataset, referenced directly to the discard of artefacts at the lithic scatter. The fluctuation of a human presence at this locale, perhaps part of a seasonal cycle of visits, re-visits and abandonment is argued to have had a real outcome: the discard of artefacts. This may change the way we think about these places. They were experienced by human actors who created taskscapes that were in themselves historically constituted. The tasks at each locale can be accessed by the discarded assemblage. Hence, traditions of stone working can also be viewed at the human level, replacing artificial periods that would bear little relation to the experience of those living in the landscape. The fact that one lithic scatter was used over several generations, rather than moving to another place is significant and would have been understood at that time. Abandonment of other lithic scatters would also be significant, perhaps learnt as part of the folk memory of groups moving seasonally across the landscape.


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