2.1 The east coast boulder clays: an alternative source for Group VI?

There could be no doubt that erratics of Lake District origin had travelled around much of northern Britain. And school had taught us that they demonstrated glacial movement in Yorkshire, as did other types of erratic – Scandinavian, Alpine, Jura and local – throughout much of Europe. Harmer's map seemed to confirm multi-directional long-distance ice dispersal from the outcrops of metamorphic, sedimentary and igneous rocks mainly in the north and west of Britain (Charlesworth 1957, 362-88). But why hadn't Cummins mentioned the existence of these erratics in his papers, even if only to dismiss them as a potential quarry for early peoples? Surely some local stone must have been picked up to use for axe-making, particularly as pebbles of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic stone provide ideal blanks for polished stone axes: only rarely can these pebbles be flaked.

Following up some of the questions set by Cummins's distribution maps of 1974 was to require a much more comprehensive understanding of Quaternary (and much other) geology than I was then equipped with, so it became important to find mentors and to read more of the relevant literature. Here, my initial championship of Harmer's map proved not to have been the most prudent of courses. Although the most authoritative source of information I knew of at the time, I was blinded by its sheer technical mastery of multicoloured cartographic achievement, so could not imagine shortcomings in the research that it conveyed. Consequently, it was hardly surprising that I should have mentioned Harmer's map unguardedly in a short piece in Current Archaeology to explain what seemed to be the coincidence of stone axes with glacial erratics (Briggs 1976b).

This drew a hostile reaction from Cummins (1977), who used references on glacial erratics that were even less well-informed than Harmer, to undermine my proposals for further research. By this time, in a classic case of fools rushing in where wise men feared to tread, I had also drawn attention to the problems of stone axes and glacial erratics in a piece written in defence of G.A. Kellaway's work on the glaciation of the English Channel (Kellaway 1971; Kellaway et al. 1975) after publication of a disrespectful and stinging review of it by Kidson and Bowen (1976) in the Quaternary Research Association Newsletter. My response drew in the Stonehenge bluestones, implement petrography and Quaternary glaciation (Briggs 1976c). The questions asked and conclusions drawn provoked a hostile reaction, first from F.W. Shotton (1976), who quite incredibly seemed to deny that Quaternary ice bearing Lake District erratics had crossed Cross Fell into NE England. Only part of my response to this strange claim was ever published (Briggs 1977).

Professor F.W. Shotton, it will be recalled, had had a prolific and successful career teaching geology at Birmingham. He is now recognised as 'The Father of the British Quaternary'. Another interest was applying his petrographic skills to provenancing stone axes. And in this field, he advised a generation of prehistorians over the post-war years until the early 1980s. Reading my questions in what was virtually his own house magazine, he was hardly going to admit that although he had sampled innumerable Neolithic stone axes, he had rarely, if ever, recommended the wholesale application of the same forensic yardstick to the numerous re-cycled clasts littering the stratigraphic sections that underpinned his authoritative scheme for the division of the British Quaternary.

At this point, in an attempt to negate, if not to discredit my most recent defence, A.M. ApSimon (1977) entered the fray. He countered my proposals for widespread sampling of superficial deposits by drawing attention to the Plussilien axe factory in Britanny and its products (Le Roux 1975), and to the amphibolite axes apparently dispersed as far west as Belgium from Sobotka in Silesia (Van der Waals 1972). He closed by asking if I would next be suggesting that the dispersal of axes from Plussilien across France represented an otherwise unknown glaciation.


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