Anne Teather, Peter Topping, and Jon Baczkowski (eds)
Osxbow Books, £38
Review Rob Ixer
These 12 quite disparate papers cover mining/quarrying of flint, chert, and other fine-grained silicic rocks within the British Isles (and Norway), although French flint-mining is necessarily discussed. More basic rocks, notably the Preseli Hills dolerite and Lake District volcaniclastics (Group VI axes and bracers), and the Mesolithic to Neolithic transition are also explored.
Three papers discuss flint, mainly from the south coast, incidentally illustrating the importance of returning to ‘older’ museum curated material. It turns out that flint-mining may have come over the Channel as part of the earliest ‘Neolithic Package’, rather than being learned/ discovered here. Three papers are Stonehenge-related, with the present views on their source-quarries clearly reexpressed by their respective proponents; the reappraisal of Carn Menyn is timely.
Surprisingly, perhaps the most topical piece is ‘Sarsen stone quarrying in southern England’, a significant and cautionary paper. It explores what remains in the landscape after very post-Neolithic sarsen extraction. It is the time for Stonehenge’s ugly sisters (the sarsens) to move centre-stage.
The remaining six chapters describe Shetland quarrying, the marked differences in Mesolithic/Neolithic quarrying in southern Norway, chert in south-west England, silicic rocks in north Cumbria, and finish with a couple more theoretical summations.
A ‘new materialism’ approach to place and the suggestion that mining was a type of special ‘integrated otherness’ appear a bit tenuous (the ‘engraved panel’ on p.175 looks very like natural joint sets) and not all the papers successfully match these overarching themes. But all of them are instructive. Perhaps miners, like early metallurgists, were special transformational people, but so were potters and farmers; perhaps stark mountain sites and colourful spotted rocks were imbued with power, but so were ears of corn. Enter the cave of Eleusinian mysteries at your own risk.
Neolithic Studies Group Seminar Papers (this is number 16) are always useful and great value. This is no exception: there isn’t a really duff/pedestrian paper among them, and certainly youthful enthusiasm can be heard stridently coming from those liminal hill tops.