Uncovering one of the largest Mesolithic Sites in the UK


Aims To find the full extent and intensity of the flint scatters at Crathes. To categorise the flints for indication of industry, dating (diagnostic flints), and further analysis for various comparisons 1. Different parts of the site 2. With other sites 3. Flints found in situ 4. With other collections from this site e.g J Grieve, J B Kenworthy General Overview In the 1970s, flint scatters along the River Dee were recorded by Dr John Grieve, leading to an excavation at Nethermills Farm, Crathes under James B Kenworthy, St Andrews University over four seasons from 1978- 1981. After meeting up with James almost 25 years later, this fieldwalking project began at Crathes in 2008. The project (2008-2012) over five contiguous fields along the North bank of the River Dee at Crathes was conducted under the auspices of OFARS. Fieldwalking took place over well-weathered plough-soil. Hand-held GPSs were used to record the Easting and Northing co-ordinates of each find. Walking 2m apart for ‘total collection’ we targeted known ‘John Grieve’ flint scatter sites at Crathes (JBK (pers com), Canmore, Aberdeenshire SMR), together with adjacent and linking areas. Line walking about 5-10m apart over remaining areas checked out the possibility of other scatters. The fields were labelled from East to West as Milton Cottage (MC), and Nethermills (NM 1-4). Unfortunately, the eastern half of NM 4 was never finished owing to lack of time in 2009, and inaccessibility in following years. The majority of the lithics were found on two river terraces. The lower terrace of Milton Cottage field spread into NM 1, 2 and 3. The middle terrace, originating below the steep bank of the upper terrace in NM 1, continued into NM 2, 3 and 4, becoming the river bank in NM 3, with the ’loss’ of the lower terrace. The lithics were found on the lower terrace of the MC field, and mainly on the middle terrace in NM 1, 2, 3, and 4, with very few on the lower terrace. In general, the lower terrace was more sandy and less pebbly. The lithics were catalogued and attributes recorded in Microsoft Excel. Microsoft Excel ‘Scatterchart’, with Eastings on the x-axis, and Northings on the y-axis, showed the spread of the scatters, and gave some indication of the intensity. In the more intensive areas the grid reference find- points represented more than one flint. Charts giving the exact numbers of flints per 10m x 10m squares were compiled by counting the total number of flints at each relevant grid reference. Although the scatter was continuous, two major sites were identified and designated Nethermills West (NMW), centred at the northern edge of NM 1 spreading into NM2, and Nethermills East (NME) centred in the SW corner of NM 4 (the location of the James Kenworthy excavation) and spreading over NM 3 and NM 4. A smaller, less intensive site (MC) showed up in Milton Cottage field, and two smaller intensive areas towards the NW corner of NM 4 may represent two small sites, or be part of one larger one. With three exceptions the assemblage of almost 10,000 pieces is of flint. The predominant colour is yellow- orange-brown (see report by T Ballin 2013 for colour descriptions, page 8) but the assemblage from Milton Cottage field has a higher proportion of grey flint. Burnt flint was found throughout the site. Much of the material is damaged or broken, but all stages of implement manufacture are present. Cores, mostly single platform, and scrapers are also present. The major part of the assemblage relates to the Mesolithic with diagnostic narrow blade microliths (possibly later) whereas broad blade microliths may represent the earlier Mesolithic. The long flake and blade scars on the platform cores and the flake/blade ratio (<5% cortex) suggest that blade production was an important technological aim. Leaf-shaped arrowheads, flaked knives, and a ground and polished knife indicate a Neolithic component. Further analysis regarding the dimensions and other technological aspects of lithics was carried out using Microsoft Excel. Single platform cores, microliths and microburins from the OFARS fieldwalking collection agreed quite well with those from the JBK excavation (T Ballin 2013) except for the sizes of the small and large broad blade triangles. This impressive Mesolithic site, one of the largest in the UK, extends 1.75km along the north bank of the River Dee at Crathes, 250m northwards in NME, and may extend further east and west. During the fieldwalking, it was noticed that the scatters were found on the higher areas on both terraces, possibly reflecting paleochannels or river braiding. Addendum In NM 4, the Mesolithic Deeside Fieldwalking Group has now confirmed a more intensive area towards the north in the west half of the field in the region corresponding to the two concentrations mentioned above. Flints were present at a lower intensity in the eastern part of the field, and some were found in NM 5, but at an even lower intensity. The terraces have now been identified, but for the sake of simplicity, I am still referring to them as lower, middle and upper as we did during the fieldwalking.
References for the General Overview page Torben Ballin (2013) Nethermills Farm, Banchory, Aberdeenshire. The Lithic Assemblage. 46 pages. For publications relating to this project, see Publications page .
© Copyright 2019 Heather M Sabnis