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Kelly, Niamh

Coarse Stone Tools in Early Irish Prehistory

PhD Candidate: Niamh Kelly
Supervisors: Dr Graeme Warren
Funded By: (opens in a new window)


This research project focuses on coarse stone tool technology, providing the first in-depth analysis of the function, context, distribution, morphology, sourcing and disposal of coarse stone tools in early Irish prehistory.

Coarse stone tools from Ireland have seen little systematic critical assessment to date and while occurring on Mesolithic and Neolithic sites in both coastal and inland regions (Woodman et al 1990, 379) there has been no attempt to comprehensively deal with them as a subject matter on a national scale. They are often dealt with on a site-by-site basis which has led to discrepancies in their identification, recording, descriptions and assumed functions (e.g. Woodman et al 1999; Woodman 1978, 115). It is perhaps the mundane character and underwhelming appearance of coarse stone tools that has led to their exclusion from comprehensive understanding of sites and assemblages, however, this gap in understanding is significant.

The key aim of this research project is to better understand the Irish Mesolithic (c8000-4000 BC) and early Neolithic (c4000-3600 BC) through the in-depth study of these tools. Coarse stone tools continue in use through the transition to agriculture in Ireland and assessing changes and continuities in their procurement, production and use has potential to address broader questions of continuity and change in population, subsistence strategy and interaction with the local environment.

This project has a number of key objectives. The most immediate of these is establishing the scale and nature of the data-set in question. We lack a basic understanding of the scale of assemblages across the island, however the total is likely to be substantial. The second key objective for this project is to create an analytical framework for the study of these tools. The tools will be placed within key themes such as function, context, distribution, sourcing and material selection, morphology and disposal. These will provide a structured approach to the material in question, a framework of comprehensive standard terminology and descriptions for these tools and provide the basis for which case studies will be chosen. The third project objective will focus on case studies, incorporating a range of locations, allowing for the investigation of diversity in both regional and topographical contexts. It is likely that bevel-ended tools will be selected for more rigorous analysis into a specfic coarse stone tool type. This analysis will include both an assessment of probable procurement areas for the selection of raw materials and of the local geological and geographical region. The final key objective for this research project is the placement of the Irish data within a broader geographical context. While coarse stone tools have largely been ignored within the Irish context, work in Britain (e.g. Clarke 2006; Barlow and Mithen 2000) and mainland Europe (e.g. VanGijn, Louwe Kooijmans and Zandstra 2001; Pailler, duPont et al 2007) has demonstrated the potential for the study of these tools. Research into these tools from Scotland has highlighted that the tools themselves represented a wide and diverse range of activities and that large assemblages are found in many contexts including domestic and funerary, with important differences between places (Clarke 2006; 2009). By contexualising this project on an Irish and European level it will provide the project with a strong international experimental and research background and potentially provide a link of continuity across Ireland, Britain and mainland Europe at a time when prehistory and stone is extremely diverse and varied.


Barlow, C. and Mithen, S. 2000 ‘The Experimental Use of Elongated Pebble Tools’ In: Mithen, S. (ed.) Hunter-gatherer landscape archaeology: The Southern Hebrides Mesolithic Project 1988-98. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 513-521

Clarke, A. 2006 Stone Tools and the Prehistory of the Northern Isles. Oxford: British Archaeological Report – British Series 406

Clarke, A. 2009 ‘Craft Specialisation in the Mesolithic of Northern Britain: the evidence from the coarse stone tools’ In N. Finlay, S. McCartan, N Milner and C. R. Wickham-Jones (eds.) From Bann Flakes to Bushmills.Oxford: Oxbow, 14-21 

Pailler, Y. DuPont, C. Sparfel, Y. Leroy, A. 2007 ‘Analyse fonctionnelle des galets biseautés du Mésolithique à la fin du Néolithique dans lOuest de la France, la Grande-Bretagne et l’Irlande’ Bulletin de la Société préhistorique francaise 104(1), 31-54 

VanGijn, A. L. Louwe Kooijmans, L. P. Zandstra, J. G. 2001 ‘Natuursteen’ In L. P. Louwe Kooijmans (ed.) Archaeologie in de Betuweroute Hardinxveld-Giessendam Polderweg Een Mesolithisch jachtkamp in het rivierengebied (5500-5000 v. Chr.). Utrecht: Rijksdienst voor het Oudheidkundig Bodemonderzoek, 163-179 

Woodman, P. C. 1978 The Mesolithic in Ireland: Hunter–Gatherers in an Insular Environment. Oxford: British Archaeological Report - British Series 58 

Woodman, P. C. and Anderson, E. 1990 ‘The Irish Later Mesolithic: A partial picture’ In Vermeersch, P. M. Ven Peer, P. (eds.) Contributions to the Mesolithic in Europe. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 377-387 

Woodman, P. C. Anderson, E. and Finlay, N. 1999 Excavations at Ferriter’s Cove 1983-95: last foragers, first farmers in the Dingal Peninsula. Bray: Wordwell

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