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Understanding quartz technology in early prehistoric Ireland. Two Volumes.

Killian Driscoll

The thesis is submitted to University College Dublin for the degree of PhD in the College of Arts & Celtic Studies January 2010, UCD School of Archaeology. Head of School: Professor Gabriel Cooney. Supervisor: Dr. Graeme Warren

Summary and Acknowledgements

Archaeologists have only recently recognised vein quartz as a significant part of prehistoric stone technologies in Ireland and Britain. As a raw material, quartz is abundant in many areas of Ireland and Britain and was utilised extensively in prehistory. However, research biases have obscured a fuller understanding of it, with the evidence either having been overlooked or ignored. Often dismissed as a poor alternative to flint, and impossible to analyse due to perceived irregular fracture properties, quartz is best understood as a different material with different physical characteristics to cryptocrystalline materials such as flint and chert that were used in prehistory.

In order to understand these different characteristics of quartz, a series of knapping experiments using different stone working methods were conducted in order to develop an analytical framework for quartz lithic analysis. This framework was then used to analyse quartz assemblages from two case study assemblages – a Later Mesolithic/Neolithic quartz scatter from Belderrig, Co. Mayo, and a Neolithic quartz assemblage from Thornhill, Co. Londonderry. Two other experiments were conducted. An experimental knapping assemblage was burnt in order to understand the effects of burning on quartz and to help identify burnt quartz in the archaeological record. The second experiment was a quartz recognition experiment which tested the identification and classification of the experimentally knapped quartz artefacts by volunteer participants who had varied levels of experience in analysing stone tools in general and quartz stone tools in particular.

The results of the experimental knapping, the experimental burning, and the quartz recognition experiment have shown that the analysis of vein quartz artefacts is certainly difficult, but not impossible – a clear understanding of the fracture mechanics of the material as set out in the experimental knapping helps in the analysis of vein quartz in the archaeological assemblages, and therefore helps in understanding the prehistoric communities who chose to use this material.

The hard copy and PDF version of the this thesis is presented as: Volume 1 presents the main thesis, while Volume 2 contains the thesis appendices and excavations plans, and the accompanying CD contains the databases created during the project, an interactive map of Irish quartz finds, and a PDF of the thesis. The architecture and contents of the thesis are explained in greater detail in Chapter 1.



1          Introduction
1.1       Introduction
1.2       Characteristics of quartz
1.3       Data sources
1.4       Abbreviations used
1.5       Archiving thesis material
2          History of Irish lithic research
2.1       Introduction
2.2       The nineteenth century collections
2.3       Culture groups
2.4       The New Archaeology
2.5       Use-wear, Refitting, and replication
2.6       Re-assessing old assemblages
2.7       Overview and Discussion
3          Quartz lithic research in Ireland
3.1       Introduction
3.2       Irish research
3.2.1    Lough Gur and its environs
3.2.2    North Mayo
3.3       Quartz finds database
3.4       Conclusion
4          Quartz lithic research outside of Ireland
4.1       Introduction
4.2       Classificatory frameworks
4.2.1    Classifying the raw material
4.2.2    Reduction sequences and attribute analysis
4.3       Experimental work – knapping and recognition of retouch
4.4       Symbolic and ‘non-utilitarian’ aspects of quartz
4.5       Overview and Discussion
5          Methodology
5.1       Introduction
5.2       Primary considerations – the sociality of technology
5.3       Exploring the chaîne opératoires
5.4       Typologies and terminologies
5.5       Assessing the raw material and collecting for the experiments
5.6       Fracture mechanics – experimental knapping and case study analysis
5.7       Quartz recognition experiment
5.8       Burnt quartz experiment
5.9       Case studies
5.10     Conclusion
6          Experimental knapping experiments
6.1       Introduction
6.2       Collecting the materials and assessing the quartz
6.3       The experiments
6.3.1    Recording the knapping events
6.3.2    Sampling strategy
6.3.3    Debitage categories
6.4       Analysis
6.4.1    Debitage Fragmentation rate Break and fragment types Complete and proximal flakes Debitage types Curvature, cortex, and termination
6.4.2    Cores
6.5       Overview and Discussion
7          Quartz recognition experiment
7.1       Introduction
7.2       Formulating and introducing the quizzes
7.3       Quiz B – WAC, Dublin 2008
7.3.1    Participants’ background and skill levels
7.3.2    First level identification – Piece: core or debitage
7.3.3    Second level identification – Types Cores Debitage
7.3.4    Third level identification – Debitage sub-type
7.3.5    Fragmentation identification
7.3.6    Modified pieces
7.3.7    Evaluating skill levels
7.4       Overview and Discussion
8          Burnt quartz experiment
8.1       Introduction
8.2       Research background
8.3       Selection of material, measurements, and fire setting
8.4       Results
8.4.1    Visible signs of burning
8.4.2    Fragmentation rate and extent of burning
8.4.3    Spatial distribution
8.5       Overview and Discussion
9          Case study 1: Belderrig quartz scatter
9.1       Introduction
9.2       Excavation background
9.2.1    Trench Two
9.2.2    Trench Two contexts
9.2.3    Trench Two ecofacts
9.3       Environmental background
9.3.1    Geology
9.3.2    Palaeoecology
9.4       Analysis
9.4.1    Quartz condition and sources
9.4.2    Quartz cores and debitage
9.4.3    C.203 group Spatial distribution Cores Debitage Chaîne opératoires
9.4.4    C.206 Spatial distribution Cores Debitage Chaîne opératoires
9.4.5    C.202 Spatial distribution Cores Debitage Chaîne opératoires
9.4.6    C.205 and C.215 Cores and debitage Chaîne opératoires
9.4.7    Non-vein quartz artefacts
9.5       Overview and Discussion
10        Case study 2: Thornhill palisaded enclosure
10.1     Introduction
10.2     Excavation background
10.2.1  Thornhill excavation
10.2.2  Other Londonderry excavations
10.3     Environmental background
10.3.1  Geology
10.3.2  Palaeoecology
10.4     Analysis
10.4.1  Quartz condition and sources
10.4.2  Contexts overview
10.4.3  Cores
10.4.4  Debitage
10.4.5  Diagnostic types
10.4.6  Palisades, structures, and pits
10.4.7  Comparison to non-quartz assemblage
10.4.8  Chaîne opératoires
10.5     Overview and Discussion
11        Overview
11.1     Experimental knapping
11.2     Quartz recognition experiment
11.3     Burnt quartz experiment
11.4     Case studies
11.4.1  Assemblage comparisons
11.4.2  Site contexts’ overview
11.5     Conclusion

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