3. Utilitarian Assessment of the Assemblage

The Graig Lwyd debitage described above is interesting since it contains so few objects that represent a constructive axe-flaking sequence. In the entire corpus such flakes account for an estimated 7%. Large primary reduction flakes are absent, with the possible exception of the thick, formless calcined flake from within the structure and the three equally robust block fragments from pit groups I and VI. One of the latter, from pit group I, could be tentatively interpreted as an axe-sharpening tranchet flake. Secondary reduction and thick thinning flakes number no more than six specimens, all from pit group I, bar the single example from pit group III. Included in this group are the two transversely struck examples, which most likely represent a delicate, late removal in the axe-flaking sequence. Fine thinning and secondary shaping flakes, characterised by their thinness and curved profiles, are noticeably absent from the sample, as indeed are spalls or trimming chips with similar typological features. The combined evidence from both the early Neolithic structure and the later Neolithic pit locations would suggest that primary flaking leading to the construction of axes was not undertaken at Parc Bryn Cegin, although it must be noted that a limited number of identifiable members of the sequential flaking process are represented on site.

The Parc Bryn Cegin assemblage is noteworthy since it predominantly represents a flake destruction rather than a flake constructive sequence. This destructive sequence is best documented in the three pit assemblages that contain flakes with polished surfaces. The most significant fragment is the remnant chunk of a polished axe from pit group VIII (No. 113). Of equal significance in the same pit group is the medallion-shaped flake (No. 1341) that has top sliced the face of a similar ground and polished article, presumably an axe. Both examples represent different objects. The same top slicing phenomenon is again illustrated in the three medallion-shaped flakes from pit group I, and in the single identically struck flake from the undated pit 1729 located 16m west of the post structure. All the other flakes of less determinate shape displaying polished surfaces, and particularly the micro-chip from within the timber structure, document the same destructive process, as indeed must many of the finer unpolished thinning flakes, flakelets and micro-chips from the two principal localities on site.

An equally effective, but totally different, destructive process has been applied to the butt half fragment of the ground and polished axe in pit 1619. This broken object had been calcined to a point of almost total disintegration before being committed into the pit with an associated assemblage of early Neolithic pottery, flint and quartz debitage. The combined evidence of the polished and unpolished debitage, both represented by objects grading in size from flakes to microchips, strongly suggests that the process of fragmenting polished axes may have been undertaken at Parc Bryn Cegin.

A similar destructive episode can be inferred from evidence in the adjoining henge complex at Llandygai and specifically in Pit FB151, which lay near the inner edge of the ditch in Henge B (Lynch and Musson 2001, figs 24, 35). This ditch had truncated part of an early Neolithic timber structure which, incidentally, was situated approximately 5m distant from the above pit, a position that is startlingly reminiscent of the distance separating pit group VIII from the timber structure at Parc Bryn Cegin. The deposition in Pit FB151 included the blade end of a truncated Graig Lwyd axe, the polished surface of which had been breached by two flake removals, the last approximating to a medallion-shaped flake (Fig. 4, 1). Also present were four Graig Lwyd flakes with polished surfaces (Fig. 4, 5-8), one of which is of the ovoid first removal type but, incidentally, not the one flaked from the axe (Fig. 4, 5), and seven unpolished Graig Lwyd trimming flakes (Fig. 4, 9, 11-16). Of the latter, six are sharply truncated, recalling the form of some of the flakes in pit group I at Parc Bryn Cegin. Pottery was not present in the deposition but the pit has a radiocarbon assay of 2880-2570 cal. BC, placing it approximately coeval with the Grooved Ware from pit group VIII at Parc Bryn Cegin. It is therefore apparent that the axe exfoliation process was undertaken at both monuments contemporaneously, but while the disaggregated Graig Lwyd lithics from pit FB151 represent a closed assemblage that was consigned to the pit within a brief period, possibly even a singular occasion, the radiocarbon dates from the Parc Bryn Cegin pits indicate a protracted time range for the depositions, as will be discussed below.

Figure 4

Figure 4: The contents of pit FB 151 at Henge B, Llandygai

The above evidence would suggest that the destructive process was not undertaken for any domestic utilitarian purpose. It is significant that while the whole of the Graig Lwyd assemblages described above, with the exception of the calcined flake from Parc Bryn Cegin (No. 511), retain their fresh, sharp edges, not a single Graig Lwyd flake has been retouched or modified to form a serviceable artefact. In this capacity the Parc Bryn Cegin and Llandygai evidence fits into the wider spectrum of sites in northern Wales where artefacts made on Graig Lwyd flakes are practically absent, with the possible exception of the enigmatic Neolithic domestic/burial/ritual site of Bryn yr Hen Bobl (Hemp 1935), to be discussed below. Excavations at the Graig Lwyd axe factory site (Williams and Davidson 1998) revealed large dumps of waste debris in a number of locations and it remains a mystery why such an easily accessible source of flaked material was not utilised. Warren (1922) noted the limited number of reutilised flakes in his excavation of site B at the Graig Lwyd, recording only three large scraper-like objects (ibid. fig. 14, 12.1-12.3) from the whole excavation. Recent excavations at a habitation site in the upland area of Bryniau Bugeilyd, south of Llanfairfechan, did produce a Graig Lwyd knife flaked from a narrow core in a late Neolithic/EBA context, but small, utilitarian artefacts made on flakes were noticeably absent from the site (Smith, pers. comm.).

Bryn yr Hen Bobl (Hemp 1935), a site that lies 5km west of Parc Bryn Cegin on the opposite bank of the Menai Strait, has produced a rich corpus of Graig Lwyd material. The site and its artefactual assemblages, however, pose intriguing problems of association, interpretation and chronology (Gresham 1985; Leivers et al. 2001), relating particularly to the spatial and stratified relationships of the objects lying beneath, within and outside the enigmatic 'terrace' feature extending to the west of the burial cairn. Incorporated in this assemblage are sherds of early Neolithic pottery, Peterborough Ware, two complete and two half fragments of axes made from a local Anglesey dolerite (Burrow 2003; Lynch 1991, fig. 29, 1-3) and a large corpus of Graig Lwyd debitage, the analysis of which requires careful consideration because of its uncertain stratified context. Several different elements may be identified in the Graig Lwyd assemblage. The largest part of the collection, numbering 81 specimens, comprises primary detachment flakes belonging to a fabrication sequence. Also included is a Graig Lwyd rough-out (Hemp 1935, fig. 7, 12), although this may not be the object fashioned in the fabrication process. The sequence does, however, indicate that axe fabrication was conducted on site, a practice that is only barely recognisable at Parc Bryn Cegin.

Figure 5

Figure 5: Examples of polished Graig Lwyd pieces from Bryn yr Hen Bobl

A contrasting strand is represented by seven Graig Lwyd flakes with polished surfaces (Fig. 5), only one of which bears any similarity to the Parc Bryn Cegin examples. The flake in question is the largest of the polished type, rectangular in shape, measuring 65mm in length by 35mm in width (Fig. 5, 1) and displaying an uninterrupted polished surface. It obviously represents a first detachment from a large polished object but differs in detail from the ovoid flakes at Parc Bryn Cegin. The remaining six specimens are markedly different in type. The flakes are thick detachments, roughly ovoid in shape, displaying small islands of surface polish interspersed between smoothed flake scars with gentle outlines (Fig. 5, 2-7). Two of the pieces are unique (Fig. 5, 6-7) since they have been retouched to form serviceable, if rather crude, scrapers, the only two diagnostic examples of flaked artefacts utilising Graig Lwyd rock apart from axes and large core tools. The other four examples may represent unfinished artefact blanks, but it is apparent that all six specimens have been flaked from the same parent mass which, originally, may have been a lightly, part polished, weathered object. It is therefore concluded that the motive for fragmenting the above series was rather different from that observed at Parc Bryn Cegin.

Axe fragmentation is confirmed at Bryn yr Hen Bobl by a series of flakes, only one of which, the aforementioned rectangular flake, utilises Graig Lwyd rock. Included are a multi-flaked core and flakes with polished surfaces, including one scraper-like object (Lynch 1991, fig 29, no. 10), which is made from a fine-grained igneous rock. It is unlikely that all the objects referred to above from Bryn yr Hen Bobl represent a group assemblage from a single context, and the associated early to middle Neolithic pottery must indicate a protracted chronology for the site and its associated lithic objects, but the collection is unique since it represents such varied utilisation of fragmented flaked and polished objects.

At Parc Bryn Cegin, as indeed in Bryn yr Hen Bobl and most other northern Welsh sites, the preferred material for flake artefact production is flint and at the former site debitage is present in all the pits, with the exception of pit group VIII. In total, 678 pieces of flint are recorded from the excavation in contrast to 93 pieces of Graig Lwyd material, although it must be stressed that, as an approximation, ten flint fragments may equate to one Graig Lwyd piece. Three flint scrapers from pit group VI are the only tools recovered from the pit groups, with the possible exception of the unskilfully fashioned, cortex-bearing, scraper and retouched flake from pit group VIII which, as previously mentioned, utilise a rock from an unidentified source. In northern Wales flint is found in coastal Quaternary Irish Sea ice deposits, where badly fractured pebble nodules are sparingly present. This material had been exploited since the Mesolithic and its inferior quality is reflected in the sub-standard precision of the artefact end product. To utilise such a poor and widely scattered raw material consistently at the expense of the more readily available and accessible source at the Graig Lwyd is therefore surprisingly baffling. Good-quality flint from the Cretaceous beds of southern Britain is not abundantly represented in northern Welsh sites, and at Parc Bryn Cegin the three flint scrapers referred to above in pit group VI utilise a brown-coloured flint of superior quality. It is, however, significant that not a single flint flake has been detached from a polished object.

A similar discerning case of selectivity has been noted in Yorkshire, albeit with the choice of raw material for axe making. Here it appears that axes made from local flint, abundant in coastal exposures and the Lower Chalk, were of secondary importance (20%) to imported axes (80%) made from a variety of grouped (Cornish, Lake District, Graig Lwyd) and ungrouped dolerites and tuffs (Thorpe and Richards 1984, 70). In this particular instance the evidence is interpreted as the imposition of control by competing elites over the exchange of prestige items, a situation that may differ from that existing in northern Wales where a similar degree of social stratification cannot be so easily established from the artefactual evidence.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s) URL:
Last updated: Wed Jul 29 2009