4. The Assemblage: Technology and Typology

Durrington Walls is sited on Middle Chalk, a type of chalk in which flint of workable size and quality occurs naturally (Richards 1990, 6; Harding 1990, 214-15). Within the limits of identification it would appear that the vast majority of the flint worked and used on the site was derived from local sources and worked locally to suit immediate needs. This, in some cases, involved the use of thermally flawed surface nodules, which is indicated by incidences of thermally flawed cores and flakes with thermal platforms. One thing now clear is that since the excavation of the ditch at Durrington Walls occurred last, it cannot have been the source for the majority of the worked flint in the area of the East Entrance. Given the large size of the assemblage, this is of some significance. It must be considered whether surface nodules could have been present in large enough numbers to have been the main source of worked flint for the site. If not then other sources must be sought, the most obvious of which are the small flint mines that lie just to the north-east of the monument (Booth and Stone 1952). Suggesting that they were the main source of flint would be contrary to previous opinion, which has described the mines as shallow, short-lived and capable of producing only poor-quality tabular flint (Harding 1990, 215). In keeping with the general attitude towards flint procurement in the later Neolithic, it is possible that the level of consumption of flint at the East Entrance meant that quantity, rather than quality, of flint available from the mine was the important factor. This would contrast with common perceptions of flint mines as locales for procuring the highest quality of raw material.

Technologically, nearly all of the worked flint from Durrington Walls is of a uniform character. In keeping with other late Neolithic assemblages, the technology is what is perhaps best described as ad hoc and expedient. Whereas the controlled production of blades and elongate flakes in the earlier Neolithic reveals continuity with Mesolithic flint-working practices, by the later Neolithic these long-standing working traditions had broken down. In their place was a pragmatic reduction strategy that most often involved the working of broad flake cores, which were often multi-platform (Edmonds 1995, 81-2; 1998, 254; Butler 2005, 155-8; Fig. 8). This technique of reduction is wasteful in character and is a widespread feature of late Neolithic flint technology, one that is emphasised in areas where flint occurs naturally.

Figure 8

Figure 8: Typical late Neolithic multi-platform cores from the Stonehenge Environs ploughsoil assemblages

Given the nature of the technology and the presence of readily available raw material, it is to be expected that debitage (flakes, cores, chips and irregular waste) dominates the assemblage making up nearly 98% of the material from the area of the East Entrance. This is not to say, however, that all flakes should be viewed as purely waste material. One of the principal tasks on the site would have been the butchery of carcasses and the cutting up of cooked meat and, if conducted using unretouched flakes, such tasks are likely to leave few macroscopic traces, if any. Unfortunately the heavy degree of patination on the material makes a microwear study of the Durrington Walls assemblage extremely difficult. However, the potential for the use of unretouched flakes is clearly shown from the analysis of the Early Neolithic midden at the Eton Rowing Lake where it is estimated that 50-65% of the flakes had been utilised (Allen et al. 2004, 90). Given the often pragmatic and unspecialised attitude towards the working of flint in the later Neolithic, it is quite feasible that this pattern of use of unretouched flakes could have been replicated at Durrington Walls.

Perhaps one of the most characteristic aspects of the assemblage from Durrington Walls is its tools. The assemblage consists of miscellaneous retouched flakes, scrapers, denticulates, notched flakes, awls, knives and arrowheads. In all contexts miscellaneous retouched flakes make up the majority of tools (i.e. worked flint with secondary modification by retouch), indicating an ad hoc attitude towards the utilisation of worked flint. Within formal tool categories, scrapers and arrowheads are the most common types with all other categories making up only a minor proportion of the assemblage.

Figure 9

Figure 9: Oblique arrowheads from the East Entrance

Excavations at Durrington Walls during the late 1960s (Wainwright with Longworth 1971) revealed a special relationship between the henge and oblique arrowheads and this has been borne out by the current excavations (Fig. 9). Within the assemblage from the recent excavations, this distinctive type of arrowhead is the second most frequent tool type, exceeded only by the ubiquitous scraper. Indeed, the ratio of arrowheads to scrapers on the site is much higher than nearly all other excavated Neolithic enclosures (Table 1).

In other contexts such as the Early Neolithic enclosures at Crickley Hill (Dixon 1988) and Carn Brea (Mercer 1981; Saville 1981, 146), high incidences of arrowheads have been interpreted as evidence of early warfare, with the enclosures themselves acting as fortifications. However, despite their frequency, at Durrington Walls this was most certainly not the case. Firstly, we now know that, during much of the occupation of the East Entrance, the huge banks and ditches at Durrington Walls had yet to be built. Secondly, the ditch being interior to the bank would have made it useless as a fortification. Lastly, we have good evidence for a different form of archery. Work by Umberto Albarella and Dale Serjeantson (2002) on the 1960s animal bone assemblage identified four pieces of flint embedded in animal bones, primarily pig, one of which was definitely from a projectile point. Several more examples of flint embedded in bone have been found by the recent excavations and these will be subjected to further analysis to ascertain whether or not they are projectile points.

Hence, it would seem that at least some of the arrowheads on the site were used to shoot at pigs prior to them being slaughtered for feasting. Given that these pigs were domesticated, and it would be quite unnecessary to shoot them to kill them, it seems probable that these acts were conducted in a ritualised manner. Perhaps feats of archery were involved or perhaps, as in ethnographic cases such as in West Papua, they were simply shot at close range (Studer and Pillonel 2007). One factor that militates against this latter possibility is that most of the embedded pieces of flint are located in bones from the limbs of the animals. The current confirmed projectile point is embedded within a pig humerus (Albarella and Serjeantson 2002, 44). These locations would not be effective for killing an animal, which tends to suggest that the animals were shot at from a distance. Whatever the case, the act of killing pig and cattle in this manner involved over-elaboration and represents a clear choice to emphasise the drama behind the act of killing. The highlighting of visual elements involved with feasting and its remains is a repetitive feature of the finds from Durrington Walls.


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