5.5.4 Procurement sites

The Burnetland Hill chert quarry pit under excavation by Biggar Archaeology Group 2007. Prior to excavation, the quarry pit was visible as a faint oval depression (courtesy of Tam Ward, Biggar Archaeology Group).

Procurement sites, where raw material was either collected or quarried, represent a particular complex set of issues. To a degree, procurement sites form part of raw material exchange sensu largo, representing one end of the chain from source to end-user (see above), but they also need to be examined and analysed in their own right, where the technologies applied to extract the raw material, as well as the  socio-economical organization behind the actual collection or quarrying processes are discussed.

At present, few Upper Palaeolithic or Mesolithic procurement sites are known from Scotland. An undated, but probably post Mesolithic, quartz quarry from Lewis has been discussed in the archaeological literature (Ballin 2004). Chert quarry pits are known from southern Scotland (Warren 2007, 146), but these features are generally undated. However, the fact that some are associated with relatively narrow blades suggests that they were operational by the Late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic periods. At Early Mesolithic An Corran, baked mudstone may have been procured from an exposure immediately above the site (A. Saville, K. Hardy and S. Birch pers. comms.). Rùm bloodstone was probably procured from the scree or beach at the foot of Bloodstone Hill (N. Galou pers. comm.); prehistoric quarries (even in the simple form of quarry pits) have not yet been located on Rùm (Clarke and Griffiths 1990).

5.5.3 Raw material exchange

Exchange is here defined as in Renfrew (1977, 72), that is

... in the case of some distributions it is not established that the goods changed hands at all; [exchange] in this case implies procurement of materials from a distance, by whatever mechanism.

Once a territorial structure has been defined, it is possible via raw material studies to examine communication forms within and between these territories. This is usually carried out in the form of distribution analyses and with the production of fall-off curves as an important aid. The shape of fall-off curves may, for example, indicate whether exchange took place in the form of down-the-line exchange (gradually declining curve) or as directional exchange (multi-peaked curve; Renfrew 1977).

Analysis of artefact size and degree of repair and recycling with growing distance to the raw material sources may also shed light on this issue, as down-the-line exchange has a tendency to see artefacts shrink in size with growing distance. Indicators of raw material value within an exchange network are: numerical presence (a raw materials numerical presence in relation to distance to source); artefact size; artefact types (i.e. was a raw material mainly used for mundane tasks or as prestige objects); tool ratios; use-wear; and depositional patterns.

The finds from Upper Palaeolithic Howburn (Ballin et al. 2010a) are still in the process of analysis, but this case study of the site’s raw materials (dominated by exotic flints and cherts) is expected to shed light on early prehistoric exchange.