Material Histories 2 – Marles Chert

Material Histories 2 – Marles Chert

(An occasional series to help you keep sane in an insane world)

Marles Chert is named after the area in Lancashire where it was first recorded many years ago. This burin was found about ten miles away from that site and the stone is likely to have been sourced from either glacial drift or a local stream. Marles like chert has been found in Cumbria and North Yorkshire as well, but is most prevalent in lithic assemblages from northern and eastern Lancashire, and the Calderdale area of West Yorkshire.

It is characterised by its glassy appearance and tiny sub-rectangular voids that occur in places. If there are not too many voids, then it makes a good robust material for creating stone tools. Its colour varies with different mineral content, and lithic implements have been found that were made of dark purplish Marles Chert. Our featured find, a Late Neolithic to Early Iron Age chert burin, is made from the typical black form of the chert.

It has been formed on a secondary piece of Marles Chert, probably a worked out core. The retained limestone cortex on the proximal end exhibits quite a high degree of wear, and there is wear gloss on most of the chert. There is sub-parallel, semi-short, abrupt retouch to the shorter of the tool’s mesals (side edges). This is probably to make the tool more ergonomic but would also have created a small but functional side scraper. The shoulder of this mesal has been reduced with a series of removals at its distal end. The longer mesal has short, abrupt, semi-parallel retouch at its proximal end. The burin has been formed at the distal point with three removals creating a concave sided point 2mm high. There are other areas on the edges and ridges which have very removals, but these are possibly the result of natural agencies.

The tool probably dates to between c2700 and c400 BC. The possibility exists that it may be an unusual Mesolithic form of burin, but the majority of burins of that period in the locale are either on existing tools or microliths or micro-debitage.

Late Neolithic to Early Iron Age Marles chert burin
Late Neolithic to Early Iron Age Marles chert burin

Material Histories 1 – Lead and Lead alloy

Material Histories 1 – Lead and Lead alloy

(An occasional series to help you keep sane in an insane world)

Lead and its alloys are possibly the most under appreciated material that occurs in the archaeological record. It has not received the attention that other utilitarian metals, especially copper and its alloys, have enjoyed. All to often lead objects are weighed in by their finders, or not recorded because comparatively little diagnostic work has been done on them. Many of the established ‘rules of thumb’ are incorrect and based on assumptions. There is a growing awareness of this and hopefully the objects recorded by the public on the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s database will provide a constantly expanding resource for experts to study.

A recycled lead token may net its finder a penny or two, but it is then lost to us all and cannot contribute to the story of Britain. It is the everyday story that needs to be read now, the story of the privileged and powerful has been the centre of attention for too long. Lead is a very useful material. It is heavy, malleable, and slow to rot. It is why it is constantly melted down and turned into new objects. Every now and then a lucky member of the public finds a lead based object that can still tell us its whole story. Our featured find, a lead and lead alloy suspended weight, is one such find.

The weight, found in Cumbria, is hollow with a perforation approximately 23mm in diameter in the base. 7mm inside this perforation is a purer layer of lead with a central smaller perforation of 16mm x 11mm. The centre of the weight contains a void with an approximate maximum diameter of 35mm and an approximate maximum depth of 25mm. The shank of the iron suspension loop is visible inside this void and is approximately 12mm long. The two layers of lead show that the original Roman to Medieval weight had been recoated in a lead alloy of lesser purity at a later period, probably Post Medieval. The ‘repair’ may have enabled this humble object to remain in use from c43 AD up until quite recently.

LANCUM-B1D420

Roman to Post Medieval lead and lead alloy suspended weight