4.4 Secondary technology

Working with the local flint, the knappers were able to make both blades and flakes that were suitable for use in many different ways. Many would, no doubt, be used without any further alteration, but some tools required more specialised working, and so a number of pieces were selected for modification. This generally takes the form of retouching, the application of pressure to remove small flakes and so shape a flake or blade, but there are other techniques, one of which is the deliberate breakage of pieces.

At Fife Ness there are indeed many broken blades (see catalogue entry; only 19% of blades were found whole), but it is difficult to say whether this was due to deliberate breakage. Blades are naturally more fragile than flakes and so there are many factors, natural or otherwise, that may lead to their accidental breakage. They may break during use or after they have been deposited as waste. The sizes of the broken pieces at Fife Ness are indeed very uniform, and this might suggest deliberate breakage, but it might also be a reflection of the sizes of the original pieces. It was not possible to refit any of the broken blade fragments, but it is interesting to note that the part of the blade that did survive was more or less evenly distributed between the distal end (30%), the proximal end (30%) and the middle segment (40%) If blades were being deliberately snapped for use, the knappers were not selecting any particular part over another. It is, of course, possible that accidentally broken blades were subsequently used as tools anyway.

Apart from the possibility of deliberate breakage, all the modified tools at Fife Ness have been altered with retouch. This has been used to create a number of specific artefact types. Most numerous of the larger pieces are the scrapers, of which there are 10 (see catalogue entry). Three of these are end scrapers, where a steep scraping edge has been made on the end of a flake. Two (317, 298) are similar in size and shape and they narrow towards the butt end, as if to facilitate hafting (see Figure 7). The third (114) is much smaller and very similar in form and size to one of the thumbnail scrapers (152), though it only has retouch at one end (Figure 7). There are three thumbnail scrapers, 152 mentioned above, being much smaller than the other two (150, 151). Both of these are similar in size and shape, with retouch around most of the circumference of the flake.

The two most interesting scrapers (149 and 185) are both made on inner flakes and are very similar in shape and size (see catalogue). Both have steep scraper retouch which incorporates, on the proximal end, the inverse scars of flake removals from an old core face (see Figure 7). These scrapers have been worked on core tablets. Remnants of the old platform may be seen and the old removal scars have been incorporated into the scraper face. This is a very unusual scraper form that has not, so far, been recorded from other sites. It is interesting to see how apparent waste flakes such as core tablets from the maintenance of cores could be picked up for use. In addition, there are two broken scrapers (97 and 153), but it is not possible to determine the type of scraper from which they came.

There are five edge retouched pieces (147, 148, 338, 372 and 429; see also combined catalogue entry) all made on flakes except one (429), which is a fine inner blade, with shallow retouch along the right side (Figure 7). The others vary in shape, though they are all roughly triangular and of roughly the same size. Two (148 and 338) are on finer flakes and worked on one side with small, almost microlithic retouch. The other two are on chunkier flakes and have retouch on two or more sides.

Finally, there are five retouched pieces which are broken to such an extent that it is not possible to determine the form of the original tool (69, 188, 255, 297 and 399). All are on flake blanks, except one (69), which is made on a blade.

[Figure 8 - the lithic assemblage]
Figure 8: The lithic assemblage: the microliths - crescents, microburins, backed bladelets, fine point and obliquely truncated
Click on image to view fuller set of illustrated artefacts

In addition to the larger modified tools 36 microliths were recovered from the site (see catalogue entry). These are particularly interesting because over half of them are of one specific type: crescents of which there are 20 (see figure 8). Of these 9 are whole, and 11 are broken, but all are recognisably from crescents. There are also five broken microlith fragments that cannot be assigned to any specific type. Microlith typology is notoriously difficult and assemblages can be divided and sub-divided again and again on the basis of minute distinctions in the retouch (Finlayson et al 1996). At Fife Ness a simple approach has been taken because what is interesting is not just the dominance of microliths with distinctly curved backs (crescents), but also the lack of other types. The crescents from Fife Ness have, therefore, been classified simply into two, basic types. Most (eg: 142; 219; 258; 295; 296; 355) cluster between 11-15mm long and 3-4mm wide and have the widest point towards the centre. Four, however, are larger (16-22mm long and 2-6mm wide), and have off-set curves, with the widest point nearer to the tip (113, 143, 183, 325). All are made on tiny blades which, not surprisingly, are narrower and much shorter than most of the unretouched blades.

There are also four other microlith types, but they are only represented by a small number of pieces. Two (184, 384) are backed bladelets, with retouch down one, straight edge (see figure 8). One (144) is a fine point with a naturally sharp side and a retouched side converging to form a point (see figure 8). The fourth (145) is best described as obliquely truncated or blunted although it is not conventional: it is a slightly wider than normal piece with a long oblique snap that has been retouched opposite the distal end and one sharp side which converge to form a blunt angle (see figure 8). There are two classic microburins (98, 367, see combined catalogue entry) where a fine blade has been notched on the right hand side and snapped (see Figure 8). This is recognised to be part of the process of manufacture of some microliths (Brinch-Petersen 1966) though it is often associated with scalene triangles of which none were found at Fife Ness.

Finally, among the microliths, there are five, less conventional pieces. These are all made on wider blades or flakes using microlithic retouch. Two (433 and 381) are made on snapped blade fragments and have retouch across one of the snapped faces, one of these (381) is slightly oblique (see figure 8). Another two (186 and 340) are of similar size and have retouch around one or more edges. The fifth (187) is broken, but was probably originally similar to the last two in size, shape and working.


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Last updated: Wed Sep 30 1998