Until relatively recently, little was known of early prehistoric Northamptonshire. Over the last 30 years or so, fairly extensive excavation and landscape survey has allowed us to build some idea of Stone Age activity and settlement in the region, though there are still gaps in our knowledge. Finds of individual objects, and scatters of flint tools and waste, have the potential to add considerably to our knowledge, and objects recorded by the PAS thus have an important role to play. Here, I’ll just introduce some of the more interesting finds.
Our only find certain to be from the Palaeolithic is the handaxe-like tool from Gayton (NARC-FD1537), previously noted in this blog. But it’s a lovely find, so I thought you might want to see it again. We have had other possible items of Palaeolithic date, including cores, but these are less certain.
From the Mesolithic, with 33 records at the time of writing, we have a little more to go on, though I think it’s fair to say that the finds from this period don’t tend to the spectacular (sorry Nicky!). PAS finds from Northants include Mesolithic microliths and waste scatters from the Gayton, Towcester and Elkington areas, which may well indicate toolmaking activity at the site. Such finds are perhaps not aesthetically striking in their own right, but are nonetheless valuable to the archaeologist in what they can tell us about how people moved through and used the Mesolithic landcsape of Northamptonshire.
For the Neolithic, with 127 records, we have a greater range of material, including a number of Early and Late Neolithic flint scrapers and waste from Towcester and Brackley in the west to Rushden and Oundle in the east. Particularly nice examples include a bifacial leaf-shaped arrowhead from the Moulton area (NARC-A76CD1) as well as polished axes, such as this example from near Hinton-in-the-Hedges (NARC-B52DA6), and this greenstone adze from close to the Bucks border (NARC-180DE7) . Such tools as this last were made by specialists in areas such as the Lake District and Cornwall, and traded over great distances.
Other objects of probable early prehistoric date include bone beads (NARC-248CB1) and the above Neolithic antler macehead (NARC-181793). Such objects were probably the templates for late Neolithic stone maces and hammers, but examples are few, so this is an important example.
All in all, finds from ‘pre-metallic’ Northamptonshire seem under-represented in comparison with those from later periods. This is unsurprising, but one hopes that the situation will improve as detectorists and fieldwalkers become more aware of the importance of such material, and become better at identifying it. Nonetheless, the ability to identify flint scatters on maps is useful in telling us about settlements, temporary camps, and itinerant activity throughout this time period, while the more exotic finds (such as Langdale and other greenstone axes) are testament to long distance axes of trade working through the county and beyond.