8th Experimental Archaeology Conference abstract – Gilhooly and O’Neill

Working with Felsite: An Experimental Approach to Identify Stone Tool Working on the Shetland Islands

Bernard Gilhooly & Brendan O’Neill

University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

During the Shetland Islands’ Neolithic period, polished stone axes, adzes and knives were produced from dyke sourced felsite. In June 2013, a field survey team, headed by Professor Gabriel Cooney of UCD and funded by National Geographic Northern Exploration Fund, spent three weeks mapping individual felsite dykes and quarries, identifying Neolithic stone tool workshops and characterising specific knapping instances. Following attempts to positively identify worked surface material and morphologically distinguish debitage from axe/adze production, it became apparent that the extent of weathering, particularly freeze/thaw weathering, on the felsite would need to be address. To this end, a suite of experiments has been designed to

  1. Investigate if frost shattered felsite displays distinct morphological features, distinguishing it from worked felsite.
  2. To begin a process of replication to address questions of timing, levels of expertise needed and difficulties in producing Neolithic felsite axes/adzes/knifes.
  3. To provide a reference collection of worked felsite in order to characterize specific morphological traits to aid in the identification of material on site.

This paper will outline the methodology being employed within this project, highlight the benefits for utilizing an integrated suite of experiments and provide initial results from the first phase of experiments.

Ballin, T.B. 2012 The Distribution of Worked Felsites-Within and Without Neolithic Shetland. In Mahler, D.L (ed) The Border of Farming and the Cultural Markers: Short papers from the network meeting in Lerwick, Shetland September 5th-9th 2011. The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, 62-78.

Cooney, G., Ballin, T and Megarry, W. 2012 Objects For An Other World, North Roe Felsite, Shetland. In Mahler, D.L (ed) The Border of Farming and the Cultural Markers: Short papers from the network meeting in Lerwick, Shetland September 5th-9th 2011. The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, 87-99.

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