4.6 Context of the lithic assemblage

With the exception of thirteen pieces from the ploughsoil, the assemblage has a sound context from the fills of a number of features as well as F46, the layer that covered the mesolithic features.

Clearly some contexts have more material than others, but generally, the makeup of the assemblage from individual contexts is remarkably uniform. Most have between 70-80% debitage, 14-20% regular flakes, 3-5% blades, and a few retouched pieces, usually 1-4%. The types of modified tool are evenly spread across the site and most contexts contained a small number of microliths, as well as some larger retouched pieces. Interestingly, over half of the assemblage is concentrated within two features: the pit F41 and spread F46. F41 contained various fills that were distinguishable by texture and colour, but which contained very similar lithics. These lithics comprised 38% of the total assemblage from the site. F46 contained an assemblage of 367 pieces, amounting to 24% of the material in total. F46 is interesting in that it contained six of the nine cores from the site, but it did not have an unusually high level of debitage. Two other cores came from F41, and one from F70.

When the spread of burnt flint across the site is considered, however, the picture is very different. In comparison with other mesolithic sites, Fife Ness has a high proportion of burnt material (32%). At the site of Kinloch on Rhum, for example, only 8% of the assemblage was recognised as burnt (Wickham-Jones 1990). The amount of burnt material within individual contexts at Fife Ness varies greatly. Many contexts have little burnt flint, but some stand out as they are almost entirely burnt (see Table 4 below). This supports the impression gained from the initial examination of the material that many of the lithics from some contexts, F64, F71, and F85 in particular, were so burnt as to have undergone a noticeable alteration to the material. Many of the burnt pieces from these contexts have a dark iron staining, and they generally seem to be more crazed than the other burnt material. It would seem that they have been subject to heat of a particularly intense or prolonged nature. It is of some note that these three contexts are contiguous and form the eastern side of the arc of pits or post-holes that define the main activity area. Interestingly, few of the retouched pieces are burnt (10 = 18%).

Context Fill Of Total Lithics % Burnt
F40 F41 142 22%
F44 F41 40 2.5%
F45 F41 179 12%
F46 - 367 31%
F59 F41 214 16%
F60 F61 120 52%
F62 F63 78 32%
F64 F65 49 80%
F66 F67 7 14%
F68 - 1 -
F69 F70 19 21%
F71 F72 50 66%
F75 F76 3 -
F77 F78 12 8%
F79 F80 9 11%
F81 F82 2 50%
F83 F84 38 42%
F85 F86 150 56%
F87 F88 5 40%
F91 F92 1 100%

Table 4: Distribution of burnt pieces amongst the flaked lithic assemblage
NB: material from the bore-hole and from the ploughsoil across the site has not been included.

The relationship between any lithic assemblage and the features of a site is a matter of some academic debate (Wickham-Jones 1990). At Fife Ness the very close correspondence between the spread of lithic material and the features suggests some association. The straightforward explanation would associate the lithics with the features, especially given the spread of burnt material and the hearth. This argument is not contradicted by the radiocarbon evidence. The suggestion that there were two quite distinct phases of activity, the first involving the lithic material alone, and the second, sometime later but in exactly the same spot, involving only construction, seems unlikely.


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Last updated: Wed Sep 30 1998