6. The Challenge

Implicit in the premise of this article is the probability that while exchange patterns might have changed during the Neolithic, those of the early Neolithic had Mesolithic roots, as has been suggested for Cornwall (Care 1982; Mercer 1986). As noted above, however, there is a need to disaggregate individual patterns of exchange at a particular moment in time from the palimpsest of distribution maps.

There would appear to be only two ways of doing this. Firstly, by looking at the dated contexts of stone axes as done earlier in this article but, as noted there, most axes do not come from such contexts and, moreover, it is not clear to what extent axes or axe fragments recovered from dated contexts are residual or recycled; old material alongside new. However, this approach has the advantage of allowing for investigation of whether the form or character of the axes changed over time, e.g. whether the proportion of unpolished examples really did increase in the later Neolithic or whether the pattern of deposition changed. The second way forward is, however, to find something else; something that might occur more regularly in dated contexts, might be traceable to a particular source of manufacture and have a relative short 'life span' of usage. The petrological analysis of pottery would appear to offer just such an opportunity. Instead of discussing exchange patterns at the regional level – as has occurred with stone axes – pottery would provide a context in which to evaluate the local networks of exchange across which those axes must have moved.

But there are other stone objects that might also contribute to understanding exchange in the early Neolithic such as pitchstone. Another equally discrete artefact group is that of carved stone balls. At the beginning of this article it was noted that a few of these provide rare examples of exotic artefacts that had 'moved' towards the area of Group VI axe procurement, and it was assumed they may ultimately have come from the north of Scotland. However, the discovery of a 'roughed out' example at Cheviot Quarry (Clive Waddington pers. comm.) allows for a very different source and for the possibility that some of the Scottish ones might actually have been made 'south of the Border'.


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