6. Chalk Flint at St Bees

St Bees is the most westerly point in Cumbria. Many lithic scatters have been reported from the area (Cherry and Cherry 1973; 1983) ranging, in terms of technology, from Late Mesolithic to Early Bronze Age. Late Mesolithic sites reveal a significant usage of volcanic tuff pebbles as an alternative to flint. In addition, more chalk flint has been found at St Bees than elsewhere on the south-west Cumbrian coastal plain.

One site – reported in Cherry (1983) as St Bees VIII – is of particular interest. The assemblage comprised a compact scatter of 141 artefacts, all but one of chalk flint, including blades, blade cores, knives, end scrapers, disc scrapers, a large isosceles triangular microlith and a chisel arrowhead.

The location of the site is shown on Figure 13, immediately adjacent to the left side of the crescent of dark soil which shows the location of a waterlogged hollow, with obvious archaeological potential. A small series of test pits excavated by Bonsall (1983) simply failed to locate the main artefact scatter, but demonstrated that flint working had taken place in situ.

Figure 13

Figure 13: Location of St Bees VIII (Cherry 1983)

A series of artefacts is shown in Figs 14-16. It can be seen that the flints are of a much darker grey than is typical for presumed Yorkshire flint, and lack similar speckled inclusions.

Figure 14

Figure 14: Chalk flint cores, St Bees VIII (Cherry 1983)

Figure 15

Figure 15: Chalk flint blades, St Bees VIII (Cherry 1983)

Figure 16

Figure 16: Chalk flint scrapers, St Bees VIII (Cherry 1983)

The chisel arrowhead, found a few metres from the main flint scatter, was described in the 1983 report as being of similar flint. However, as can be seen from Figure 17, while the arrowhead appears to be made from chalk flint, it does not closely resemble the remaining chalk flints. It is more typical of presumed Yorkshire chalk flint.

Figure 17

Figure 17: Chisel arrowhead (second from the left), St Bees VIII (Cherry 1983)

This raises two possibilities: either this arrowhead is not associated with the remaining chalk flints at all, or it is made from flint from a similar source but within the natural range of variability in colour of flints from that source. If the chisel arrowhead is not in fact associated with the remaining chalk flint artefacts, the assemblage as a whole could well be Mesolithic.

The possibility of an Antrim origin for the remaining chalk flints cannot be excluded. The cache of flints found at Auchenhoan, near Campbeltown, Kintyre, in Scotland shows that Antrim flint was being brought into northern Britain (Saville 1999), but nothing comparable is known from Cumbria. There are only two artefacts of Group IX, from Northern Ireland, so far securely identified in Cumbria, an axe provenanced only to 'Westmorland' (Westmorland 31) and a flake from a polished implement from Shap (Cumbria 71) (Fell and Davis 1988).

There is also evidence for contact during the Neolithic between south-west Cumbria and the Isle of Man, demonstrated by the finding of a Ronaldsway Neolithic axe at Seascale (Cherry 1967). This implement deserves to be more widely known and is therefore illustrated here as Figure 18. There is no reason why Antrim flint could not have arrived in Cumbria indirectly, via the Isle of Man.

Figure 18

Figure 18: Ronaldsway Neolithic axe, Seascale (Cherry 1967)

The site at St Bees VIII offers great potential for further investigation, particularly if and when a reliable method for distinguishing between Antrim flint and Yorkshire flint is established.


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Last updated: Wed May 27 2009