Anatomy of a Lithic Scatter
Anatomy of a Lithic Scatter: The contribution of the Grieve Collection to understanding of the site at Nethermills, Banchory, Aberdeenshire.
Lecture by Caroline Wickham-Jones FSA
The archaeological site of Nethermills extends for some 2km along the north bank of the River Dee to the east of Banchory in Aberdeenshire. Lithics were first collected here in the 1970s, a small area was excavated by James Kenworthy between 1978 – 1981, and field collection continues to the present day. Most of the evidence indicates activity in the Mesolithic, but there are a few Late Upper Palaeolithic pieces as well as artifacts likely to date from the Neolithic and Bronze Age. This is an archaeologically rich area: the Neolithic timber halls of Balbridie and Crathes lie within a kilometer on either side of the river, and slightly further away is the extensive scatter site of Birkwood.
While lithics have been recovered from a number of fields along the Dee, this study focusses on one field: NM4, that of the Kenworthy excavation. Comparison of the finds from the different episodes of work here provides a fascinating glimpse into the build-up of information about the field. Current fieldwalking takes place under the aegis of Mesolithic Deeside, an HLF-funded community group who practice rapid classification and basic analysis of their finds, and information is also available on the results of fieldwalking undertaken in the years following excavation. While the excavation yielded a lithic assemblage of over 30,000 pieces, it has only been possible to study the cores and retouched pieces. Excitingly, in 2018, finance became available to catalogue the first material recovered from the area, that of the Grieve Collection. This has revealed the changing picture of the site down the decades, as separate collectors focused on different aspects of the assemblage, thus, unwittingly, adding their own biases to the knowledge base. Furthermore, consideration of an old assemblage in light of the paradigms of today has uncovered evidence for chronological indicators, such as likely Late Upper Palaeolithic material that were not recognized in the past.
The significance and innovation of the work lies not just in the information it reveals about the specific site at Nethermills but in the more generic field of the construction of archaeological data, a theme which has wide application for early prehistory in general. Lithic Scatter Sites form a major archaeological resource: one which occurs across the UK and which has been subject to considerable investigation regarding the extraction of archaeological potential. Curiously this work rarely incorporates consideration of early collections. Study of the Grieve Collection indicates both the value of older (often uncatalogued) material which may contain elements not represented in more recently acquired assemblages, and the importance of understanding the biases which have impacted on knowledge of any one site over the years.