I’ve recently made a couple of interesting ‘mystery’ finds in the South Downs. In a rich surface scatter of Mesolithic worked flint (including a tranchet adze, a pick etc.) I found a stone that was clearly out of place geologically (picture 1). It was identified for me by the Natural History Museum as a lamprophyre containing the rare mineral barkevikite. The nearest place that the stone could have come from is either Scotland or Norway, so it must have been imported. As a surface find it could have been brought at any time, but I was intrigued by the idea that it could have been brought by the Mesolithic people who camped in the Downs making tools. It appears to have been worn along one side by rubbing.
Perhaps because I had been alerted to the possibility, I found a second similar stone a week later, again among a surface scatter of Mesolithic worked flint, but in a second field some distance from the first (Picture 2). This time it was a piece of sandstone that again must have been imported from outside the area. This, too, showed distinct wear from rubbing. It also showed blackened areas that suggested it had been in fire.
Is it possible that the Mesolithic nomads who visited this region each year brought along these stones to assist with the making of flint weapons and tools? If so, what did they use them for? Perhaps for dressing the edges of their cores, especially the more delicate microblade cores? And if this is the case, why leave them behind – possibly even tossing one in the fire?
Finding these stones started me thinking about the many camp sites along the seaward (south) side of the South Downs. The sandy soil of the northern side has long yielded finds of microliths and scrapers. On the southern side one can easily find microburins – snapped off butts of microblades that are the preliminary stage of microlith manufacture – but very rarely do you find microliths themselves.
This suggests the possibility that some Mesolithic people set up temporary camps on the south side of the Downs (perhaps in spring) to take advantage of the abundant flint to make their season’s tools and weapons, and then departed for the Northern side where they set up their hunting camps and living quarters.
I wonder if, on the last day of toolmaking, a Mesolithic man or woman looked around, tidied up and tossed his or her sandstone rubber into the fire as a gesture of a job well done.
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