4.3 Primary technology

The assemblage includes much evidence relating to the manufacture of the artefacts. Because flint knapping is a deductive process it leaves a residue of waste material, some of which might be quite suitable for use, if unintentionally produced, and some of which is too irregular or too small for use. The first category is known as debris and it is of course, difficult to separate from regular material that was intentionally produced, for experimental work has suggested that the manufacture of blades, for example, produces nearly five regular flakes for every blade (Zetterlund 1990; Bordes and Gaussen 1970). The second category of irregular material however is easy to single out and has been classified here as debitage.

The presence of debitage is an indication that some tool manufacture and maintenance was carried out in the vicinity of the site. At Fife Ness, 74% of the assemblage was debitage (see debitage catalogue entry), a similar figure to percentages of debitage recovered from other Scottish mesolithic sites. However, the figure from Fife Ness has undoubtedly been inflated due to the sieving procedures used. Residues at Fife Ness were sieved through 1mm meshes as opposed to 3mm (which is more commonly used where the recovery of lithic material is a main aim). This actually means that the relative amount of debitage at Fife Ness is unusually low, since much of it was under 3mm in size and would have been missed had the usual size sieve been used.

Information about the techniques used for artefact manufacture may be deduced from the artefacts themselves, from the waste material, and from the cores: the residues of any nodule from which flakes and blades have been removed. There are nine cores in the assemblage (see core catalogue entry), six of which come from one context, F46: the main "occupation area". All the cores are platform cores with a single platform from which flakes and blades have been removed. The platform edges were, by and large, carefully maintained to assist successful removals, and six of the cores are classic blade cores (Fig 7). These cores were carefully prepared and flaked in order to produce regular parallel sided blades. Blade manufacture is a specialised process and it is typical of mesolithic sites. Most cores retain some cortical material, but they were very small when abandoned: usually between 23-30mm long. It was presumably difficult to produce viable flakes and blades below this size.

[Figure 7 - the lithic assemblage]
Figure 7: The lithic assemblage: cores; core tablet scrapers; end scrapers; thumbnail scraper and edge retouched piece
Click on image to view fuller set of illustrated artefacts

One interesting core (318) was made on a very rough chunk of cherty flint (see Figure 7). It is a long piece (50mm) and has only been worked at one end, where two or three removals were made, but there are clear ring cracks on the surface of the platform that show how it was struck in a vain attempt to produce more flakes. The material is not of good quality, and the core seems to have been abandoned early in its life, presumably due to the intractability of the material.

There is no evidence for the use of the bipolar technique in the assemblage. This is interesting in view of its ubiquity on many other mesolithic sites, especially along the west coast, and in view of its particular suitability for the working of pebble nodules such as those at Fife Ness. Bipolar knapping may have been a useful technique in the mesolithic, but it was clearly not one on which the mesolithic inhabitants of Fife at this time wished to draw.

The assemblage includes 70 blades (see catalogue entry) and 263 regular flakes (see catalogue entry), many of which are now broken. The platforms are mainly narrow (84%) and of no particular form, though bulbs of force are diffuse and there is evidence of the maintenance of the platform edge. All the evidence suggests that relatively soft hammers were used in order to strike the flakes and blades from the cores, and that the cores were carefully prepared and maintained. This is also supported by the amount of debitage from the site, much of which, especially the smaller pieces, is likely to have come from core preparation work. There is, in fact, one core trimming flake (number 55 in catalogue) in the assemblage, which shows how the platform edge did, from time to time, need attention, and two scrapers are made on core tablets (see catalogue entries for 149 and 185) showing how even "waste" flakes and debris could be picked up and used.

The presence of 70 blades, together with the types of cores that occur, suggest that a primary product for the knappers may well have been the manufacture of flint blades. This is a process that inevitably results in the production of large amounts of debris as well as regular flakes as a by-product, and there is a measure of its importance in the ratio of blades to flakes. This ratio is known as the lamellar index (Zetterlund 1990). At Fife Ness the lamellar index sits at 27% which suggests that blade making was indeed important.

The sizes of the artefacts which the knappers were making were obviously affected by the raw material with which they had to work, but it is clear that they were able to work in a very standardised manner. While the lengths of the unbroken blades varied greatly, blade width was very uniform: between 7-13mm (see catalogue entry). The broken fragments were also relatively uniform in size (lengths varied between 11-24mm and widths between 7-13mm, see catalogue entry). Regular flakes, however, were much more variable with widths between 8-23mm, and lengths between 14-33mm.


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Last updated: Wed Sep 30 1998