Neolithic And Early Bronze Age Research Student Symposium

Annual Conference for Postgraduate Researchers

Newcastle 2015

Regional Organising Committee:

Lucy Cummings, Mareike Ahlers


The event was kindly sponsored by the School of History Classics and Archaeology at Newcastle University. We would also like to thank Beta Analytic for their merchandise, and BAR Publishing for their conference pack inserts and donation.

Keynote Lecture:

Dr Chris Fowler

The powers that be’ and powerful events: ontologies in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain and Ireland


Roll me a great stone: the megalithic roller hypothesis and other legends

Barney Harris, UCL

The construction of megalithic monuments was a feature common to many early human societies. Yet firm evidence relating to how these impressive structureswere built rarely survived. Despite this dearth of evidence, scholars have readily speculated upon the techniques employed during the construction of megalithic monuments. In particular, the methods used to transport giant individual monoliths have remained a key subject of debate. One of the earliest commentaries on the issue is made by Walter Charleton (1660), who suggests that the giant sarsen monoliths of Stonehenge were most likely conveyed by means of rollers. Centuries later, Henry Layard (1853) proposed that the Assyrian winged bull statues werealso moved using rollers, citing thier apparent depiction on bas reliefsrecovered from the ruins of Nineveh.

The roller hypothesis has since been repeated as the a priori explanation for the movement of giant monolithis throughout prehistory, finding currency in academic publications and popular media alike. On occassion, the hypothesis has come under closer scrutiny (e.g. Davison 1961), but where did it originate from and why does it still persist even today? Working with a series of historical texts, engineering reports and ethnogrpahic case studies this paper examines the unusual genesis of the roller hypothesis, its irremediable perpetuation and the problem of its validity and usefulness today.

The stone rows of Connemara: a consideration of their landscape settings and wider affiliations

Marcus Byrne, National University of Ireland

This paper explores the landscape settings of the stone rows of Connemara and southwest Co. Mayo. A small number of these enigmatic Bronze Age monuments are known from this region which demonstrates a continuation of settlement in this remote part of Western Ireland from the Neolithic period onwards. Whilst most studies of stone rows have tended to concentrate on the monuments perceived celestial alignments, this examinaiton of their environmental palcing has shown that they performed other functions in a social and ritual landscape setting. Although these monuments are notoriously difficult to date, their consistent design scheme and distribution patterns across parts of Scotland and Ireland suggests a shared ideological belief system which may have spread through trade and social affintiies. This places these apparently isolated monuments in a wider social context along the Atlantic coast during the Bronze Age. The monuments themselves are deeply codified within their landscape settings, which attests to a strong sense of place for the people that built them. Affintiy to locality is expressed through these monuments in a way that has been hidden from modern understanding.

Assembling and understanding minilithic and megalithic worlds: thinking through the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age landscapes of Exmoor National Park.

Douglas Mitcham, University of Leicester

Compared to other regions of the U.K Exmoor’s prehistoric landscapes have previously attracted only limited interest. Yet Exmoor’s Neolithic and Early Bronze Age landscapes have a distinctive character worthy of greater attention, typified by the concerted use of small stones to construct a variety of monument configurations, including standing stones, circles, rows, settings and cairns. Intriguingly, these small features occur in landscapes which also contain larger barrows and cairns which are more conventional in size. Drawing on a synthesis of existing archaeological data, GIS analysis, my original fieldwork and museum research, this paper will explore how the prehistoric landscapes can be understood from a holistic perspective that includes all forms of people’s interactions with materials. Exmoor’s small stone configurations can challenge conventional understandings of monumentality, in that studies of this practice have tended to focus on the raising of very large stone, timber or earthen structures. The situation on Exmoor was quite different; people were often gigantic in relation to the miniliths they assembled.  I will draw on the Deleuzian notion of assemblages, incorporating perspectives on miniaturization, experience and the relational quality of things, to consider the processes which led to the appearance, use and dispersal of these archaeological entities as assemblages. I will argue that small stone configurations had distinct affective qualities that made them highly significant in people’s lifeways, despite their small size. Finally I will conclude by briefly considering the implications of this approach for wider studies of monumentality.

Where do we go from here? Past, present, and future approaches to understanding henge monuments

Lucy Cummings, Newcastle University

Henge monuments are some of the best known monuments of Neolithic Britain, yet we still struggle to understand their function and architecture. Early publications focused on defining henge monuments as a single type site, followed by subsequent classification systems. Hybrid terms such as hengiform, henge-enclosure, ‘super-henge’ and mini-henge have been introduced for those sites which do not fit the traditional definition of a henge monument. These terms are now used to classify an ever-growing number of sites which share broadly similar characteristics, and are (generally) circular or near-circular in form – yet this variation across a large number of known sites (both excavated and seen as cropmarks) acts to argue against the henge as being a fixed site-type.

This paper will outline the initial stages of my research, looking at the effect of numerous attempts to reclassify henge monuments on the recording of such sites and our interpretational focus. I am not the first to question not only the use of a typology based on morphology, but also the use of a site-type when recording henge monuments and various associated classification systems: Alex Gibson (2012) has recently questioned our use of henge classification, and indeed the use of the term ‘henge’ itself, instead advocating that we look at these sites as earth circles. I will outline my current findings in the number of sites currently recorded as henge monuments, the effect that this has on our understanding of the importance of these sites, and suggest some routes forward for the study of these monuments.  I question the use of site-type terminology and postulate how a change in terminology, and our approach to archaeological sites and typology, could change our perspective of these large significant places across Neolithic Britain.

There and Back Again- Contacts between the British Isles and the northern Funnel Beaker Culture displayed by mortuary architecture

Mareike Ahlers, Newcastle University

Since the mid-20th century archaeologists have recognised similarities between mortuary features underneath earthen long barrows found in the earlier Neolithic in the British Isles and such features in southern Scandinavia and northern Germany associated with the Funnel Beaker Culture (TRB). Although the phenomenon of long barrows in general is wide-spread across Western Europe, specific site types (e.g. split-tree features known in Scandinavia as ‘Konens Høj type’ features are only known from these two major areas. These mortuary features, which had been used as the primary area for burial activity are in fact so similar that (direct) cultural contacts and connections between these areas over long distances and across the North Sea must have existed. Although this has been acknowledged by archaeologists since the 1950s, intensive studies comparing these different regions and site types directly are very limited in their scale and in fact rather scarce in general. This lack of collaborate research results in different approaches to interpreting those sites. Whereas the Scandinavian tradition tries to imply hierarchical organisation on the early TRB communities according to their habit of single burials and contrasting idea of elaborate burials in long barrows and simple earthen graves in graveyards, the British research follows a more anti-hierarchical interpretation focussing on community activities, due to the identification of multi-burials and successive burial features.

To unfold the actual connections between these regions it is necessary to look at each individual site and the elements they entail to compare the detailed similarities and just as important the differences on a micro and macro scale. This paper will give a brief summary of the state of research of both regions so far and will outline my PhD research and methodology.

Stone procurement during the Neolithic in the UK

Pete Topping, Newcastle University

The flint mines and stone axe quarries of the Neolithic period have traditionally been problematic, interpretive paradigms vacillating between functionality/market economies to ritualised extraction and more symbolic usage.  More recently objectification, personhood and materiality have also come into play.  However, a flaw in much of this is the often small amount of comparative data considered, particularly ‘ethnographic parallels’, which has led to an over-reliance upon a limited number of easily accessible case studies.  This paper will explore the trends apparent in a much larger global data set – both archaeological and ethnographic – to identify patterning in both records and help explain potential social values placed upon extraction sites, their products, the practice of extraction, and the reasons why these products were disseminated – and how far. The aim is to develop a new, statistically robust ethno-archaeological model for the social context of stone procurement in the Neolithic.

What role did flaked stone bars and stone ard points play within Orcadian Prehistory?

Robert Leedham, University of Reading

For over 150 years coarse stone tool artefacts have been present within the Orcadian archaeology, being made from sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rock types. Archaeologically it appears these artefacts were implemented within a wide range of tasks and functions, dating from the Neolithic to Iron Age. These artefacts may have been used in tasks ranging from butchery, to stone knapping, to agricultural production. To date, the technology behind, and function of many artefact tool types within Orcadian assemblage’s remains poorly understood. Recent attempts (Clarke 1989; 1995 & 2006 and Rees 1970; 1979) merely demonstrate the need for renewed empirical and experimental investigation, required to ‘fill the gap’ within known interpretation.

While more recent academic efforts have spent more resources on expanding knowledge of Neolithic architectural sequences of the island group, and its associated society, this has side-lined wider contextual information and artefactual data of understanding the character of coarse stone tools in later prehistory of Orkney. Frustratingly, current knowledge of the transition between the end of the third to beginning of the 1st millennium BC has remained general in character. Clarke (2006) and Rees (1979) have both suggested that coarse stone tool assemblages move from domestic and ritual to more agriculturally proportioned in character. Mainly consisting of two tool types; flaked stone bars and stone ard points, which are unique to the Northern Isles of Scotland in this period, remain poorly understood. Current understanding has suggested they were heavily involved with agricultural production, however how they exactly would have been operated in prehistory still remains a mystery. This study attempted and continues to investigate the function of ards and Tillage implements within Orkney of the late Neolithic to Early Iron Age, postulating that flaked stone bars and stone ard points were crucial within later prehistoric subsistence. Moving beyond a mere technological narrative, this study also attempted to connect the tools themselves, technologically, socially, ideologically, economically and environmentally, illustrating how the tool types role’s changed from the late Neolithic to early Iron age.

Experimental Archaeometallurgy: the case of Pyros-Mavroraki (Limassol-CY)

Marco Romeo Pitone, Newcastle University

Archaeometallurical studies have shown in the last decades the importance of combining research with Experimental Archaeology. Planning an experimentation requires a wide knowledge of the site studied, from both an archaeological and archaeometrical point of view. In the case of a smelting experiment for instance, the archaeological study will give the basic information about the shape of the furnace and its building process. Archaeometry in the meanwhile will provide the essential information about the materials used for its construction but also about the raw materials (ore, fuel…etc.) implied in the main smelting process. It is easy to understand, consequently, how important the completeness of the excavated context is for the possibility to analyse findings in laboratory.

An excellent case study to apply Experimental Archaeometallurgy is represented by Pyrgos-Mavroraki, an early 2nd millennium BC proto-industrial settlement, which presents the entire metallurgical chaine operatoire typical of early/middle Bronze Age Cyprus. The site, excavated by the Italian Archaeological Mission of the ITABC-CNR of Rome (Institute for Technologies applied to the Cultural Heritage of the Italian National Research Council), under the scientific direction of Dr Maria Rosaria Belgiorno, revealed two different metallurgical areas and a main blacksmith workshop. Evidence for beneficiation, smelting, melting, casting and polishing activities has been uncovered at the site.

My PhD project at Newcastle University is focused on the reconstruction of the entire copper processing and the archaeological remains found at Pyrgos-Mavroraki will also be investigated using archaeometrical techniques such as SEM-EMS, pXRF, ICP-Plasma, Gaschromatography, and Use-Wear Analysis. Considering both the archaeological examination of finds and all of the archaeometrical investigation carried out on them it will be possible to design an accurate, and valid, protocol for the experimental studies of Pyrgos-Mavroraki.

Small cheer and great welcome: Feasting and the creation of identity in the Hebridean Neolithic

Michael Copper, University of Bradford

Excavations at the small Neolithic islet settlement of Eilean Dòmhnuill in the Outer Hebrides in the 1980s produced a very large quantity of elaborately decorated pottery in a distinctive local style that contrasts with much plainer assemblages from other contemporary sites in the region. Although eclectic in nature, the forms and motifs in use at Eilean Dòmhnuill appear to have changed very little in over 800 years. Elaborately decorated pottery has also been recovered from other Hebridean Neolithic sites including islets, and even sea stacks, as well as from chambered cairns. The nature of this pottery and the contexts in which it has been found suggest that it formed an important element in commensal gatherings. Within such gatherings common expectations and dispositions could have arisen that resulted in the emergence and maintenance of a distinctive Hebridean Neolithic culture.

This presentation will propose that commensal feasting provided the catalyst for the introduction of Neolithic practices into the Hebrides, and that the resultant constrained variation within material culture across the Western Isles in the 4th millennium BC, as exemplified by the pottery, raises important questions about the nature of culture as constrained variation across time and space.

Seeing the light: recent research into Early Bronze Age ceramics

Claire Copper, University of Bradford

Pygmy cups, also known as incense cups, accessory cups or funerary cups are seen as a key feature of certain Early Bronze Age burial assemblages. New research is currently over turning a number of commonly held misconceptions and would imply that there may be more to these small and highly diverse vessels than first appears to be the case.

Over 350 of these vessels have now been recorded for the south of England and it is hoped eventually to combine this material with data from Wales, Scotland and Northern England to produce a full corpus of all excavated examples to date. Initial contextual analysis of the southern examples would seem to suggest that the roots of the tradition lie within Beaker burial practices, with the cups replacing the role of Beakers within graves while continuing the use of Beaker decorative techniques and schemes, including the use of coloured inlays.  Later, highly distinctive variants, including Aldbourne Cups and Fenestrated Cups would appear to incorporate elements of solar symbolism.

This presentation will outline the initial results of a detailed contextual analysis of the vessels associated with inhumation burials before moving on to discuss some of the decorative motifs and techniques utilised. The results of experimental work with Grape Cups and Fenestrated Cups will also be presented.

Reinterpretation of site-specific Bronze Age Cornish ceramic material through the use of combined digital and traditional process in contemporary craft practice

Helen Marton, Falmouth University

My practice encourages a new understanding of Cornish heritage through shifting perceptions, encouraging narratives and potential responses, which were not possible before digital technologies. I am currently exploring how the use of contemporary digital technologies in craft practice contribute to interdisciplinary debates around presenting and interpreting historical sites.

I utilise site-specific digital equipment, used in geological/archaeological and craft practice, to ensure a contemporary influence exerted from the digital. With an emphasis upon Bronze Age ceramic finds, I am primarily engaged with ‘the domestic’ over the ‘longue dureé.’ A common thread linking past and present in terms of domestic activity can be explored through the majority of archaeological ceramic finds, and a preoccupation with household archaeology, (Allison, P 1999) objects and shared activity. I am suggesting that making, as practice is an essential way of understanding site and the everyday practices associated with them. I use a range of materials, traditional and digital processes, with a particular focus upon ceramic and textile. My works borrow and abstract meaning and significance from ancient domestic and ritual objects in order to create contemporary cultural indicators exploring the domestic environment, highlighting our basic human drives and needs.

The resonance of material is a central consideration in my work. I source unique clay dug from the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall.  Gabbroic clay was used in Cornwall from the start of the Neolithic period lasting roughly 5000 years. In addition to pushing the technical boundaries with this material I explore the use of combined digital technologies. Using thin sections of Bronze Age shards, I am able to enhance and examine thin section of this ceramic in high resolution. Digital imagery produced through advanced digital microscopy and petrography is transferred onto fabric and ceramic using digital print.

Making Beakers Boring: Beakers as pots

Owain Mason, University of Edinburgh

Narratives of the late 3rd millennium are dominated by discussions of the ‘Beaker phenomenon’. The appearance of the distinct style of s-profiled pottery grouped under the label ‘Beaker’ has often been held as one of the key markers of wider change during the period. Its association with changes in burial practice and links to other novel artefact types, make it an ideal marker of change. But is this true, or have Beakers been elevated to something more than an artefact? In this paper I wish to argue that there is a danger that the archaeology of the late 3rd millennium is one of expectation, rather than data led. An implicit focus on Beakers, and funerary data has led to a biased view of the period, which is observed in the persistence of certain key themes. If as Robin Boast argued we view Beakers as pots rather than instigators of change, what does the ceramic data tell us of change in this period? Indeed can we argue that there is such a thing as a Beaker phenomenon? In this talk I will focus on areas often thought of marginal and examine what the ceramic record tells us about change during the period, independent of broader concepts of the Beaker phenomenon, instead adopting a regional, rather than top down approach, that extends beyond expectations of what should be happening. Through such an approach a nuanced regionally informed perspective of the period can be reached, which rather than a single unilinear cultural model provides us with nuanced regional perspective of change in this period. Importantly this returns pots to their role as pots, rather than conceptual categories.


In addition to the above talks several posters were submitted:

Design and Use of Causewayed Enclosures: Cosmology and/or Defence? A Functional Discussion of Causewayed Enclosures in Sussex, Southern Britain

Cameron Straughan, Newcastle University

The overarching goal of my research is to study the functionality of the Early Neolithic monuments known as causewayed enclosures through the application of empirical data and the use of sociological theoretical approaches. This is achieved through the collection and dissemination of previously published excavation reports as a method of providing a strong data set for which interpretations have been based on. Following this, the primary discussions within this dissertation have surrounded the potential defensive and cosmological functionality of the causewayed enclosures on the South Downs, Sussex. The interpretations for defensive components and evidence for cosmological organisation are supported by the works of leading scholars from various parts of the United Kingdom and has used their case studies as a way of comparing evidence. Finally, my research provides an archaeological statement about the potential functionality of causewayed enclosures through the examination of architecture, landscape setting, skeletal assemblages and other artefacts.

The Colour out of Space:  Colour representation in the monuments of Neolithic Atlantic Europe, and its implications for understanding cosmologies

Penelope Foreman, Bournemouth University

Since the ground breaking “Basic Color Terms” in 1969, the idea of the universal evolution of the language and perception of colour categories in early societies has tantalised archaeologists with the possibility of providing new perspectives of how prehistoric peoples perceived their world. The psychology of colour perception is rich with ideas on the development of the cognitive and perceptual functions of the mind.  However, there has not been a comprehensive phenomenological analysis of how colour was selected and presented across the Neolithic of the Atlantic façade of Europe. By looking closely at colour presentation in the monumental architecture in sites across the region and throughout the Neolithic period, any significant patterns in colour selection can be recognised and analysed. To establish patterns, groupings of monuments in both island and inland locations will be examined, photographed, and analysed through colour matching software. As well as gaining unique insights into the perceptions of Neolithic peoples, the ultimate goal of this research is to shed new light on the reasons behind the location, material, design and purpose of megalithic monuments, and how colour influenced the very core of Neolithic cosmology.

Polished Flint Discoidal Knives: what were they used for?

Melissa Metzger, University of Bradford

This research involves investigating function of polished flint discoidal knives from the Late Neolithic/ Early Bronze Age, which are apparently unique to the British Isles.  No scientific study has been performed on these artefacts and functional understanding to date is based on contextualized hypotheses from the literature. It has been suggested that these tools were status symbols and used for butchering, working hides and domestic chores. Contradictorily, recent research has proven that these tools did not function well as hide scrapers, and use-wear on the few archaeological samples studied is yet to draw firm conclusions. This research outlines the results of a preliminary study of the knives societal purpose and additional research.

The scientific study will include a catalogue of all reported polished flint knives: the discoidal series, a detailed literature review, a study of the potential effective uses of the polished edges, and an examination of similar tools to further understand manufacturing techniques. The Olympus Lext OLS-4000 Laser Scanning Microscope will be used to study the edges for use-wear; which can aid in understanding the manner of disposition and its link to the social and symbolic side of the Neolithic. Through the use of the Laser Scanning Microscope and 3d metrology, the Neolithic polished flint discoidal knives have the ability to be viewed and compared in an entirely new way, which may help to lead to new discoveries into the Neolithic society.

The Hustle and Bustle of a Neolithic Stone Axe Factory: A Focus on Activities at Graig Lwyd

Amber Roy, Newcastle University

The study of Neolithic stone axes has been a topic of interest for some time leading to much knowledge concerning their petrology, distribution and significance. However, research has been limited to a few specific axe factories, in particular Langdale in the Lake District, which have been used to generalise knowledge of axe production.

This poster presents the findings of my master’s thesis which analysed the activities that occurred at Graig Lwyd Neolithic stone quarry and their implications through analysis of the aspects of the site, such as patterns of working; techniques used; and domestic evidence. Graig Lwyd has been investigated to discover what life at this Neolithic stone source was like for those who quarried it, including the chance of a domestic setting and societal implications. While the importance of the site was upheld through ancestral links and memory which in turn maintained social relations and allowed acts of personal transformation.

A contextual and comparative analysis of the uses and significance of British Neolithic and Early Bronze Age hafted stone implements

Amber Roy, Newcastle University

The study of shaft-hole implements, from the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze in the United Kingdom lacks any recent literature, the most prominent being are a series of works by Roe and Fenton from the 1960’s – 80’s. Roe’s contributions to the subject and its importance have formed the basis for all subsequent work; she showed battle-axes and axe-hammers as distinctive artefact types whilst also developing a typological classification for both artefact types subsequently Fenton’s publications focussed on the production of battle-axes and axe-hammers in Scotland. However, there is little known about the uses of these implements; how significant were they? Were they varied typologically and regionally? And how do they compare with parallel implements in Europe?

This poster presents the research I am carrying out by using techniques of use-wear analysis and experimental archaeology to create a corpus of the main uses of shaft-hole implements, in particular battle-axes, mace heads, and axe-hammers, from across the British Isles. Whilst also comparing and contrasting them with parallel objects of different typologies and from different areas, in order to understand the use and significance of such implements, c. 3000 – 1500 BC.


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