I’ve just found my first flint!
A quick visit to the coffee shop to upload the blog, then we were off on the boat to St Martins. Landing at Higher Town was convenient for our small team to make its way to one of the more enigmatic, but potentially extremely important sites, at Old Quay.
Here we started by discussing the geology of the islands. During the last glaciation the glacier reached down to the north of St Martins and left its signature in a series of peri-glacical deposits (the material dumped at the end of the glacier) that lie directly on the bedrock. This includes ground up grantite of various sizes in fine silt called ramm (rabb or glacial Head) with the occastional far travelled erratic. The archaeology lies on top of this deposit, although sometimes the difference between ramm and the undeveloped soils overlying it can be difficult to spot.
We then started to look at the eroding archaeology. The section at Old Quay has been producing pieces of flint, pottery and bones for many, many years. In the 1980’s a feature (possibly a pit or maybe a posthole) was noted, with pottery lying near that dates to the Neolithic period. Just around the corner on Par Beach, are peat deposits also dated to the Neolithic period (this time from radiocarbon dating evidence) and associated with this was a calf tooth. Finding the calf tooth was a lucky coincidence and if it is the same date as the peat, this would be the earliest evidence for domestic cattle in the UK! We have also sent the tooth to be radiocarbon dated, and are awaiting the answer with bated breath.
So back to the site – clutching the earlier records we set out to refind the pit and to look for more material eroding from the site. We were sucessful on both counts. We refound the pit, it was clearly visible with a darker organic fill and flecks of charcoal at the base. The Scillies are home to a burrowing bee, and its activities make it difficult to be sure that all organic material in the pit really is in situ (i.e. original) making dating it difficult. The pit has survived in the section for a good twenty years, suggesting that erosion along this part of the coast is not severe.
We then looked all the way along the beach for any finds eroding out of the section. They were very hard to find, with only tiny fragments of material present. After staring at the dirt so hard we were going cross-eyed, we were eventually rewarded with a small flint assemblage. Even our the newest archaeologists were sucessful in spotting these tiny pieces of material. We found a range of flint flakes, a flake core for small bladelets, a rejunvenation flake and a retouched utilsed blade. This material can date from any point from the Mesolithic to the Early Bronze Age. However we also found a MICROLITH, probable a trapeze type, and this definitely dates from the Mesolithic, about 7 thousand years ago.
Last night in discussion it emerged (during what we called a ‘Flintoff’ – a lively discussion on tool types between specialists) that neither Ian nor Trevor had ever seen a true mesolithic flint tool from the islands, so to find one today was fantastic. This is the first finds evidence for a microlith in context – i.e. we know what it is and where it was. This was so exciting that Ian got goosebumps.
We also found a number of small fragments of pottery, mostly so small they are undiagnostic. We cleaned up the pit so we could photograph it, and then took shots along the section. Looking at the eroding face there appears to be a large deposit of material lying over the glacial ramm which contains flint at various locations.
Keith, a local expert, came along and shared some of his knowledge with us. He has been finding eroding flint, pottery and bone along this section for many years and has watched the shoreline retreat by ten of metres since the 1960s. We were also visited by another resident whose younger relative we have met up with in Cardiff as she is working at the university.
We are due for some extremely bad weather so we left the island on the earlier boat, but first we called in to see Knackyboy Cairn, an entrance grave we have spent some time researching (see previously). At present we are awaiting a series of radiocarbon dates from this and two other entrance graves as up until now not a single tomb has been directly dated. It was, as ever, a splendid viewpoint (this time for the incoming rain). We financially support the continual clearance of this monument and at present it is home to a pleasing range of spring flowers.
Our final stop was to look at a recently found possible shaped stone. We don’t know what it is but humans have definitely shaped it. The stone has a flat surface with a range of enigmatic ridges pecked into its surface. Back in the late 80’s a rather fabulous stone statue (locally known as Billy Idol) was found on St Martins, is this another similar find? Last time we came to islands we discovered a carving on a beach stone on Samson, we showed pictures of the art to many experts whom all agreed it was rock art, but with no parallels was consider it to be undatable. With this latest find it seems that the isles repetoire of rock art is gradually increasing.
We spent part of the day hoping to bump into Ray Mears, he is here filming a natural history program about black rabbits, hedgehogs and ants. Jacqui is convinced he needs to use her services as an expert in insular zooarchaeology……rabbits and hedgehogs are not native!
We have just heard that tomorrows trip to Nornour is off due to inclement weather. A real pity as Ian has not yet visited the island. Oh well, living on an island these things happen.