Neolithic Journey | Eston Hills arrowhead is well-travelled!

A late Neolithic arrowhead, a Ripple-flaked Oblique type more than 5000 years old and discovered in the 1980s, has always stood out amongst other finds because of the unusual quality of the flint and fine working. It’s tip and tail are both missing. Interestingly, a similar large example was found in the same vicinity, now in the Duffy collection at Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar. It is broken in the same way and has been burnt. The find spots are adjacent to a large, intact burial mound close to the Carr Ponds wetland at the north-western end of Eston Hills above Teesside, north-east England. While these burial mounds usually date to the Bronze Age, it is possible that some are of earlier date, before the arrival of copper and bronze metalwork.

ZAP! Science and lasers

The arrowhead was examined by Dr Tom Elliot of the University of Worcester and included in the analysis stage of his doctoral research¹, which investigated the geological source of Mesolithic artefacts from the Lower Wye Valley region of the Anglo-Welsh border. We’re extremely grateful to Tom for his help and interest.

This used Laser Ablation Inductively-Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) and was conducted at the University of Oxford Department of Earth Sciences.

The results were compared to over 1200 analyses of geological samples from 21 bedrock sites from across the Chalk, as well as 14 sites that sampled a range of superficial deposits, such as river terrace gravels and glacial tills, centred on the Severn Valley and Estuary.

Statistical analysis indicates strongly that the arrowhead comes from the geology represented in the samples from Beer Head in Devon, and importantly discounted other geological sites sampled in Tom’s research.

Map of Chalk bedrock sample sites overlaid on White and Grey (darker green) Chalk and OS 50m DTM (click to enlarge).

FH – Flamborough Head, ER – Enthorpe Railway Cutting, WW – Welton Wold Chalk Pit, TC – Trimmingham Cliffs, CS – Caistor St Edmund Chalk Pit, BC – Brandon Country Park (superficial deposit samples), KC – Kensworth Chalk Pit, AR – Aston Rowant Nature Reserve, SL – South Lodge Chalk Pit, FG – Fognam Quarry, WB – Winterbourne Chalk Pit, BX – Boxford Chalk Pit, PF – Pewsey Hill Farm, LB – Langdon Bay, Dover, BM – Blick’s Mead/ Vespasian’s Camp (superficial deposit samples), WH – West Harnham Chalk Pit, SQ – Shillingstone Quarry, PH – Peacehaven Steps, BH – Hooken Cliff/ Beer Head, BP – Ballard Point, WN – White Nothe. © Tom Elliot.

While further investigation is needed to sample more geological material, particularly from the Teesside region, much of this material can already be ruled out by macroscopic visual comparison as it is often speckled and different to that of the artefact. The flint which occurs in our regional beach and glacial till deposits originated in chalk beds under the present North Sea (formerly Doggerland) and in neighbouring continental Europe, carried by the glaciers of the last Ice Age more than 12,000 years ago.

The implications of the results suggest that the arrowhead, or the material it was made from, travelled c.450km from the source at Beer Head in Devon, to the Eston Hills in North Yorkshire, putting it on a par with other widely distributed lithic materials during the Late Neolithic such as polished stone axes.

Thank you for reading — more news soon!

– Spencer Carter
Cleveland Archaeology Trust Project Team

¹ Elliot, T. (2019) The Mesolithic in the Marches: Geochemical Lithic Sourcing in the Lower Wye Valley. Unpublished PhD thesis. Worcester: University of Worcester.