6. Conclusion

The evidence presented above supports a close relationship between the distribution of stone tools and the landscape characteristics of the Foulness Valley, though caveats concerning deposits underlying the alluvium of Zones 2 and 3 and the colluvium of the glacially derived valleys of Zone 1 must be considered, as well as the fact that the tools themselves have been largely recovered by chance rather than by systematic survey. This type of relationship has been noted by Cummins (1979) elsewhere in Britain. As it was not possible to carry out detailed typological study of all the axes, any chronological patterning within the landscape could not be determined, though such a study would certainly be worthwhile at a later stage. It is, however, possible to draw certain general conclusions.

As may be expected, many tools were found close to water, supporting the observation of Radley (1974, 11, fig. 1) that many of the axeheads within the wider Vale of York were close to watercourses, especially on higher ground. It is noticeable that some of the best made and unused examples in the study area were found within the wetlands themselves or close to watercourses. These may indeed represent structured deposition. In some places in the Foulness Valley, two tools with these characteristics were found in close proximity, one made from relatively local flint and the other of stone from a more distant source. It may be that these were used for different functions. In both the Neolithic and Bronze Age it is possible that water cults and associated ritual and votive activities took place here as may have occurred elsewhere (Barber 2003; Brown 2003), though others have argued against the wholesale attribution of such finds to ritual activity (Pendleton 1993; 2001). Even if such deposition was dictated by ritual rather than the working of wood, the ritual behaviour itself may have been heavily influenced by the environment in which people lived and worked. Perhaps some of the Foulness Valley axes were deposited as an offering of thanks for the extraction of woodland products in a similar way to the objects deposited in the grain pits of Iron Age Danebury (Cunliffe 1992).

It has been noted that in Zone 1 of the study area the loss/deposition of axes suggests movement between the contrasting environments of lowland and Wold, a familiar element of prehistoric land-use patterns (Olsson et al. 1999). These might represent symbolic movement, especially when the proximity of monuments such as long barrows is taken into account. On the other hand, they may simply be the result of casual loss. It is, however, clear that the primary function of axes and adzes in the Foulness Valley was the working of wood. Many tools show signs of heavy reworking and long use and they may well have been highly valued for practical reasons and have been in short supply. Further detailed analysis of the sharpening, reworking and wear patterns of tools will provide information about their origins and use. The well-preserved organic deposits along the Foulness Valley provide great opportunities for further palaeoenvironmental sampling as well as for high-resolution dating, including radiocarbon and dendrochronology, which will continue to provide an independent chronological framework for Neolithic activity within this under-studied region, which still holds great potential for the investigation of prehistoric human/landscape interaction.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s) URL:
Last updated: Wed Jul 1 2009