4. Material Culture

Overview | Flint | Prehistoric pottery | Briquetage | Roman and later pottery | Ceramic objects | Ceramic building material | Fired clay | Clay pipe | Metalwork | Worked stone | Glass

4.10 Worked stone

F. Roe

The six stone artefacts amount to three querns, two whetstones and a small worked fragment, while there is also an unworked slab of quern material (Table 17). Additionally, 59 fragments of burnt stone were recorded and these include eight small pieces of coal. All have been examined with a x10 hand lens. Only one object, a whetstone (ST 6, Fig. 47) came from a defined late Iron Age context, the others being unstratified. The querns that could be studied were made from imported materials, but local stone could have been used for the whetstones.

4.10.1 Querns

Both saddle and rotary querns are represented and all were found unstratified. The piece of saddle quern (ST 1) has a markedly concave grinding surface and has been made from a boulder of granite that contains biotite. Part of the original surface survives on the underside, with traces of rough tooling into shape over other external areas. There are no potential source localities for granite within a reasonable distance of Blackstone, the nearest being in north-west Wales, an area that would not have been particularly easy to access. It seems more probable that a boulder from a glacial deposit was utilised. The pebbles in the Severn gravels around Blackstone are unlikely to have produced large enough blocks but suitable material could probably have been found in boulder clay, which does not, however, occur in Worcestershire (Mitchell et al. 1961, 110), although it can be found northwards from around Bridgnorth (Whitehead and Pocock 1947, 149, fig. 18). A particular concentration of boulders near Trescott, Staffordshire (west of Wolverhampton), included a number of granites described as 'non porphyritic with much biotite' and further granite boulders have been recorded in this area (Whitehead and Pocock 1947, 156). Looking further north up the Severn towards Shrewsbury, granite erratics from the Lake District or Scotland have been noted in Shropshire (Toghill 1990, 168). A source that could be linked with transport along the Severn seems the most likely and this quern, then, may have been brought up to 52km (32 miles) southwards down the Severn, no doubt in company with other commodities.

An unworked slab of biotite granite (ST 2), comparable to that used for the saddle quern, may have been obtained from a similar source area, with the unrealised intention of making it into a saddle quern or rubber. Such glacial material is unlikely to have been of a size or shape suitable for manufacture into rotary querns but would have been ideal for small saddle querns and rubbers.

One of the rotary querns appears to have been a small one (ST 3). The rim is now incomplete but the diameter seems to have been around 350mm. It was an upper stone with a slightly concave grinding surface and part of a wide central hole, while the upper surface was domed but with hollowing towards the hopper, a shape that would be appropriate for an Iron Age quern. Rotary querns from later Iron Age contexts are uncommon in Worcestershire, but the local variety, with a hole in the side for the handle, is demonstrated by a find from a late Iron Age ditch at Stonebridge Cross, near Droitwich (Miller et al. 2004, 30 and fig. 12). An entirely different material was used to make this quern from Blackstone, a pebbly grit from the Lower Old Red Sandstone of Herefordshire. It can be matched by the Withington stone from quarries that were much used in later times for building stone, and are located some 7km north-eastwards from Hereford and approximately 44km (27 miles) by a direct route from Blackstone (Brandon 1989, 14 and 45). The ferruginous deposit near the rim of this quern may simply be the result of iron staining, but it has been suggested that some Yorkshire rotary querns were in fact used to grind ferruginous material (Heslop 2005, 149).

The third quern, another rotary (context unknown; Fig. 46), is now known only from a photograph taken at Hartlebury Castle Museum some time ago. This shows a near complete lower stone of disc type, apparently slightly raised in the centre round a hole or slot for the spindle. It is made from a pale-coloured stone. If this quern is Roman in date, as the shape implies, it could be made of Millstone Grit from the Pennines, since this was widely used for Roman rotary querns and millstones, as for instance at the Bays Meadow villa at Droitwich (Barfield and Roe 2006, 186).

Figure 46

Figure 46: Rotary quern (now missing).

Another worked piece of Coal Measures sandstone (unstratified), with four worn surfaces, may be a reused fragment from a quern.

4.10.2 Whetstones

One of the whetstones (ST 6, Fig. 47) is from an attested late Iron Age context (0313.5), having come from near the bottom of the main inner enclosure ditch. It consists of the broken end of a small slab whetstone of brown sandstone that is likely to have come from the local Upper Coal Measures, although it may have been collected in the form of a pebble from the Severn gravels (Mitchell et al. 1961, 112). That the Upper Coal Measures were suitable for sharpening tools is borne out by the fact that they were quarried for grindstones at Alveley, Shropshire (Whitehead and Pocock 1947, 88). Whetstones from Iron Age contexts are not especially common, being particularly elusive in Worcestershire. There were very few whetstones of the slab variety in the large middle Iron Age assemblage at Beckford, and it was concluded that the roughened ends of quartzite or sandstone pebbles were used here for sharpening tools (Roe in prep.). Two similar artefacts were recorded from Conderton Camp (Thomas 2005, 175 and fig. 63, S 16 and 17).

The second whetstone (ST 8), which was found unstratified, is a large rod, 216mm in length and wider at one end. It was made from Upper Coal Measures sandstone and in general appearance resembles post-medieval whetstones.

Figure 47

Figure 47: Whetstone.

4.10.3 Burnt stone

The burnt stone amounts to 2.290kg (from pit 0125.1, pit 0185, gully 0253, and unstratified), and consists mainly of fractured pieces of pebbles of quartzite, quartzitic sandstone and sandstone, all of which could have been collected from the local Severn gravels. There are also eight small fragments of coal, and this too occurs in the area, as for instance in the Wyre Forest (Mitchell et al. 1961), so a limited use of this would be unremarkable.

4.10.4 Discussion

There are few known Iron Age sites in the vicinity of Blackstone that have comparable worked stone objects. Saddle querns made from biotite granite have not been recorded elsewhere to date, although blocks of stone from the Boulder Clay must have been utilised at other places to the north of the area, and indeed were at a middle Iron Age site on the M6 Toll Road in south Staffordshire, where a complete saddle quern of gneiss came from a pit cut into a ditch terminal (Shaffrey 2008). There are some indications that Lower Old Red Sandstone from Herefordshire was used at other Iron Age sites in the area, although this has not been verified. At Bromfield (Shropshire), rubbers described as being made of grit (Stanford 1995, 115) may prove to be Withington stone, while at Croft Ambrey, Herefordshire, the stone used for many of the saddle querns and rubbers is also described as grit (Stanford 1974, 185) and may again be the Withington stone. There is better evidence for the use of this stone at Roman sites, including Deansway, Worcester (Roe 2004, 472).

The interest in the querns from Blackstone lies in the marked contrast between the choice of materials used for these and the varieties of quernstone in use in more southern parts of Worcestershire. At Beckford the middle Iron Age saddle querns were made from May Hill sandstone, while later Iron Age and early Roman rotary querns were made of Upper Old Red Sandstone from the Forest of Dean. At Conderton Camp, likewise, middle Iron Age saddle querns were made from May Hill sandstone, and this was a pattern repeated all over the northern territory of the Dobunni. Quarries on May Hill supplied stone for the saddle querns, with only limited use of Upper Old Red Sandstone until rotary querns came into use, when it was widely utilised (Roe in prep.).

At Blackstone there would have been trading activity both up and down the River Severn, with a resulting stone distribution pattern that was different from that in the Dobunnic area further south, so it is possible that Blackstone lay in another territory, at least economically.


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