A group of archaeologists from The University of Manchester collaborated with University of Cardiff and Herefordshire County Council on a dig at Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire, a mile south of another dig at Arthur’s Stone. There, they studied a complex of 6000-year-old timber halls, burial mounds and enclosures from the Early Neolithic period, when farming and agriculture arrived in Britain for the first time.
As well as a range of artefacts including pottery, stone implements and cremated bones, they uncovered rock crystal which had been knapped like the flint at the site, but unlike the flint, it had not been turned into functional tools such as arrow heads or scrapers – instead, pieces were intentionally gathered and deposited within the burial mounds. The experts say the material was deposited at the site over many generations, potentially for up to 300 years.
Only a few places in the British Isles have produced rock crystal large enough to produce the material at Dorstone Hill, the closest being Snowdonia in North Wales and St David’s Head in South West Wales – this means that the early Neolithic population must have had access to the material across a large distance – in order for it to reach the site.
“It was highly exciting to find the crystal because it is exceptionally rare – in a time before glass, these pieces of perfectly transparent solid material must have been really distinctive,” said lead researcher Nick Overton. “I was very interested to discover where the material came from, and how people might have worked and used it in this burial mound.”
He continued: “The crystals would have looked very unusual in comparison to other stones they used, and are extremely distinctive as they emit light when hit or rubbed together and produce small patches of rainbow – we argue that their use would have created memorable moments that brought individuals together, forged local identities and connected the living with the dead whose remains they were deposited with.”
The researchers plan to study materials found at other sites to discover whether people were working with this material in similar ways, in order to uncover connections and local traditions. They also intend to look at the chemical composition of the crystal to find out if they can track down its specific source.
The paper can be accessed at https://www.doi.org/10.1017/S0959774322000142.