8th Experimental Archaeology Conference abstract – Dyer and Fibiger

Knocking Heads: a smashing investigation of the Thames Beater

Meaghan Dyer & Linda Fibiger

School of History, Classics, and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, UK

A notable level of inter-personal violence characterized the Early Neolithic in Britain, though the context and mechanism of this violence is often heavily disputed. Much of the trauma record from this period manifests as blunt force cranial injuries. The distinct problems identifying Neolithic weapons have prevented the attribution of much of the record to particular tools of violence. This research is the first time a particular weapon will be tested to try and attribute some of the traumatic record from the period. The Thames Beater, a wooden club, presented as an ideal choice of testable weapon based on its preservation, temporal and geographic context, and ethnographic considerations. A to-scale replica of the Thames Beater was used in experiments with both synthetic skull material and pig crania to try and produce blunt force fractures. The resulting fracture patterns were then compared with the archaeological record of the Early Neolithic to look for similarities. It is hoped this research will demonstrate the multi-purpose use of artifacts from the Early British Neolithic as both opportunistic weapons and daily tools; as well as provide the framework in which further experimental research can be carried out on other possible weaponry.

Fibiger, L. Ahlström, T. Bennike, P. Schulting, R.J. (2013) Patterns of Violence- Related Skull Trauma in Neolithic Southern Scandinavia. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 150, pp 190-202.

Schulting, R.J. (2012) Skeletal evidence for interpersonal violence: beyondmortuary monuments in southern Britain. In Schulting, R. and Fibiger, L. (eds.) Stick, Stones, and Broken Bones: Neolithic Violence in a European Perspective, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schulting, R. and Wysocki, M. (2005) ‘In This Chambered Tumulus were found Cleft SkullsS’: an assessment of the evidence for cranial trauma in the British Neolithic. Proceeding of the Prehistoric Society, 71, pp107-138.

Walker, P.L. (1989) Cranial Injuries as Evidence of Violence in Prehistoric Southern California. American Journal of Physical  Anthropology,80, pp 313-323.

Webber, M. and Ganiaris, H. (2004) The Chelsea club: a Neolithic wooden artifact from the River Thames in London. In Cotton, J. and Field, D. (eds.) Towards a New Stone Age: Aspects of the Neolithic in South-East England, pp.124-127, York: Council for British Archaeology Research Report 137.


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