8.2.2 Raw Material

The lithic assemblage from the Carmelite Friary consists almost entirely of flint, supplemented by one piece of pink agate, one piece of grey chalcedony and three pieces of milky quartz. The flint represents a number of different varieties from very fine to very coarse, with and without impurities, and it appears in many different colours. As different colours of flint seem to co-vary with flint types (fine/coarse) and trenches, Table 37 and Table 38 were produced to test the possibility of different flint varieties representing chronological units. As only one piece of flint was found in Trench C (1994 excavation), this trench has been excluded from all tables apart from the general artefact list, Table 39.

The classification of flint artefacts by colour is subjective, and some colours possibly form a continuum. For example, the colours orange, yellow, pink and red usually define relatively fine flint, as do light brown and light olive-green, but the colour 'black&grey' (which covers pieces which are black, or very dark grey, with light grey spots) usually coincide with relatively coarse flint. In Table 38 related colour groups have been amalgamated, and the distribution by trench is shown as percentages. The flint artefacts defined as grey represent a number of different sub-varieties, and as such they have not been amalgamated into the group of black&grey flint artefacts. The two main areas, the West Range (Trench A) (see Trench location plan) (69 pieces) and the Church (see Trench location plan) (177 pieces), are highlighted. The 1980-1 excavation, the West Range (Trench B) and the Graveyard area are represented by only 31, 20 and 21 pieces each and have less statistical credibility, and the analysis will consequently focus on the West Range and the Church.

The most significant differences between the two major trenches relate to the groups black+black&grey and orange+yellow+pink+red (for simplicity's sake referred to as the black&grey and orange groups). In the West Range trench (Trench A) there is approximately 50% more black&grey flint than in the Church trench (Trench H), and in the Church trench there is approximately 50% more orange flint than in West Range (Trench A). In the technology section, distinct technological differences will be demonstrated between the black&grey and orange groups.

The black and grey flint represents a general problem of Scottish city excavations. This flint is relatively coarse, many pieces bear 'fresh' cortex, and most of it has been reduced by the application of very simple techniques. For these reasons this type of flint has frequently been labelled 'ballast flint' ('….mainly variegated pale, medium or dark grey in colour', Kenworthy 1982, 204). A detailed analysis of the black&grey flint from the Carmelite Friary in Aberdeen suggests that the vast majority of these pieces are worked (see the assemblage and technology, and a number of unmodified black&grey artefacts have heavy use-wear on their edges.

The author is aware of the fact that flint may gain a worked appearance from exposure to a high-energy environment, and has in the past examined moraine-crushed flint, beach flint from tidal zones, and industrially crushed flint from private drives and railway lines (Denmark). In general, naturally or industrially flaked flint has attributes similar to lithics flaked in bipolar technique, but it is quite possible to distinguish between this material and the results of prehistoric knapping (Ballin 1999).

Accepting that the overall majority of the black&grey flint pieces are worked or used, the question remains as to where this raw material came from? With its relatively fresh cortex it is not from local pebble sources, and according to Alan Saville, the National Museums of Scotland (pers. comm.), the black&grey flint is distinctly different to flint from the Buchan Ridge Gravels immediately north of Aberdeen (Saville 1995; Saville and Bridgland 1992; Bridgland et al. 1997). At present the source of the black&grey flint is unknown. The other varieties (colours) of flint are probably local and may derive from beach sources.


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