The Joy of Flint by Clive Waddington
The book is set out in a simple, easy to follow pattern with well-illustrated chapters of approximately eight pages long, which serve as a general introduction to the subject. Topics covered include raw materials, stone tool manufacture and stone tool chronology- the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Early Neolithic and Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. A final section of the book deals with the analysis and interpretations from lithics. There then follow two brief appendices covering suggested attributes for recording stone tool assemblages, object illustration and a glossary. The catalogue of assemblages currently held in Newcastle Museum provides 29 pages and the book concludes with a bibliography and index.
The cover of the book is immediately eye catching both for its title, which captures the emotion most stone tool specialists feel for their material, and for the striking colour photograph of John Lord at work. The author makes it plain in the introduction that this book is not intended to present a definitive or in-depth examination of the subject and unashamedly stresses that, where possible, the thrust of the text offers a northern bias to stone tool studies.
The initial chapter provides a well-structured description of raw materials and illustrates that, despite its title, the book is not exclusively about flint. This chapter not only serves the purpose but is essential for introducing the new reader to the vast array of rocks, some relatively coarse grained, that have been exploited for stone tool manufacture in the north of England. It stresses the important role that surface and glacial deposits, beaches and river gravel played as sources of raw material in areas where primary sources were hard to come by. The chapter concludes by migrating to the south of England with a short discussion of flint mining including consideration of the symbolic and ritual significance of these sites.
There follows a concise description of the various techniques used in stone tool manufacture. This section covers the reduction sequence, retouch, flake and core morphology, flaking, pecking, grinding, polishing and drilling. Flint technology is a complicated subject and there is a great deal of factual information crammed into the sentences in this section for the beginner. Indeed it could be argued that some of this section could be better placed in the glossary, which would create room for an expanded and more relaxed description of flint technology that would be of more benefit to the first time reader. The main points are backed up as they are throughout the book, by annotated drawings and good quality colour photographs.
The next four chapters trace the evolution of stone tool industries in Britain from the Palaeolithic, through the Mesolithic, Early Neolithic to the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. A consideration of flint working in the Late Bronze Age is added at the end of this last chapter. The Lower and Middle Palaeolithic periods are virtually absent from the north of England and references to relevant sites are inevitably drawn from the south of the country. This is probably the weakest of the period chapters. It accepts that hand axe technology may have co-existed with the flake/core technology of the Clactonian but adheres very closely to the concept that the earliest stone tool technology of the British Isles was the flake/core tradition of the Clactonian. Table 1 at the front of the book also tends to corroborate this impression despite the results of work at Boxgrove, West Sussex (Roberts and Parfitt, 1999). There are also a number of dates that do not conform to accepted Oxygen Isotope Stages (OIS), principally those shown for the Cromerian and Hoxnian Interglacials in table 1. In addition the introduction of the Levallois technique to the British Isles is placed at c.100,000 BP despite the fact that Bridgland (1994) has associated the introduction of this technique to the later part of OIS Stage 8 at approximately 250,000 BP. These errors excepted the chapter ends more strongly on the Upper Palaeolithic, where the north of England is well represented at Creswell Crags. The following three chapters all paint readable, general, chronological pictures of the Mesolithic, Early Neolithic and Late Neolithic and Bronze Age period that have the ability to appeal to specialists, students and uninformed members of the public. The chapters also draw more heavily for their source material on the northern counties and place the stone tools in their wider context of settlement, burial, trade, climate and environment.
The final text takes the reader from the tools themselves to consider their interpretation as indicators of human activity and behaviour. This introduces a range of analytical techniques including attribute, functional and spatial analysis, petrological sampling as a means of establishing production and exchange and social, stylistic and symbolic function of stone tools. This is a particularly important aspect of stone tool studies and one that must be introduced to the ‘first time’ reader in order to expand their study from the tool itself. The more interpretative and theoretical approach to stone tool analysis is arguably one of the more difficult aspects of the subject to convey in readable text in an introductory volume to a casual reader. Parts of this chapter are eminently readable to those with any level of knowledge; however there are other sections that adopt a more formal style of text and are less enjoyable to read. The chapter also suffers from being the most poorly illustrated chapter of the entire book.
The Gazetteer of the Lithic Collections of the Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle-upon-Tyne provides a useful catalogue and a starting point for any researcher studying stone tools in the north of England. It is well set out by county and alphabetically by parish. Each entry consists of location, NGR (where known), museum catalogue number, donor, published references and a brief description of the objects. Many of the items refer to a single object, including individual flint flakes. Flint axes have been listed but perhaps unfortunately, not stone axes. The glossary is sufficient to cope with most of the basic definitions that an aspiring student of stone tools may wish to resolve and the bibliography provides 230 titles on a variety of topics to offer additional reading matter should this be required, including publications in Danish, French and Norwegian!
This book sets out to provide a basic, well-priced, introductory guide to studies of stone tools and to offer a gazetteer to the stone tool collections of the Museum of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Most of these aims are achieved successfully, although there are parts of the text that are unlikely appeal to a broad public readership. It is most likely to benefit students or those with some prior knowledge of the subject, but may also attract casual readers who will be attracted by its well-illustrated format. For those keen to acquire an easy route to present knowledge of stone tool assemblages in the north of England the gazetteer provides an easily accessible source.
Review Submitted: August 2005
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