Grieve Collection, the analysis of a flint scatter

Research on a museum collection has confirmed it is importance for lithic studies

The Grieve Collection of worked flint was recovered by fieldwalking from the north bank of the River Dee to the east of, Banchory, Aberdeenshire by Dr J Grieve in the 1970s. The collection contains material from several sites, but it was never catalogued. In the 1980s one of the sites, at Nethermills Farm, was excavated by James Kenworthy under the aegis of HES (Wickham-Jones et al. 2016). The excavated finds date mainly from the Mesolithic, but a few pieces have recently been identified as Palaeolithic (Ballin and Wickham-Jones 2017), and there is a small Neolithic and Bronze Age component. The present project set out to catalogue the Grieve Collection with the aim of assessing the periods, types of activity and raw materials contained within this early collection from the location. In addition, the existence of discrete assemblages of archaeological material drawn from the fields since the 1970s (by the excavation in the 1980s and by fieldwalking since then) offered the possibility of looking at the extent to which fieldwalked material is representative of a site and how, if at all, it is impacted by previous collection from the same location. To this end the results of the 2018 HLF Mesolithic Deeside Project (Cameron et al. 2018) will provide invaluable comparative information.

Grieve collection map of locations

Grieve collection map of locations

The assemblage comprised 5701 pieces, from nine sites, all of which have been catalogued and rebagged to ensure the integrity of the assemblage in future years. In addition, some material had
lost derivation.

The Grieve Collection has been housed in cardboard boxes with groups of lithics placed into plastic bags by type and site. In addition to the boxes containing the Grieve Collection, Aberdeen Museum holds paperwork comprising notes on the collection made by Grieve in the 1970s and written up by R Daly in 2001. There are also notes made by other researchers, not all of which agree, and variations in cataloguing have made it impossible to reconcile the lithic totals between individual research analyst. One of the boxes of Grieve material was passed to CWJ in early 2017 whereupon it became apparent that the original plastic bags into which finds had been placed were beginning to disintegrate with a subsequent loss of derivation. For this reason, as well as the general desire to examine and analyse the material, the present project was initiated in order to rebag and label everything before further loss of context occurred.

Previous estimates of the size of the Grieve Collection varied between 4819 – 8775. This work has produced a definitive total, 5701, and highlighted gaps where it is possible that some bags of material (such as the single platform cores from Site B, Park Bridge) may have been removed for analysis and not returned. A similar fate may have befallen material from the Birkwood site (Site J), where Aberdeen Museums list 831 pieces but only 264 were present in the boxes. In addition, material from three smaller sites noted by Aberdeen Museums, (though not in other notes), is
totally missing:

Site Number of Pieces
Site I, Balbridie Farm 5
Site K, Heughhead Farm 18
Site L, Peterculter Farm 9

Table: Grieve Collection, missing sites.

One site that did exist, Garramore, is not mentioned in any of the existing notes about the Grieve collection. This is a small collection, comprising mainly cores, and relates to a site at Cowden,
Clackmannanshire. Grieve does not mention this site and it is, of course, possible that the material was added to the collection at a later date.

The material comes from a number of sites in the vicinity of the River Dee (fig. 1). The most prolific sites are those to the east of Crathes, and include the field at Nethermills Farm which was later
excavated. In general, the evidence suggests that the bulk of the assemblage from these fields is Mesolithic in date, though some pieces were indicative of later (Neolithic and Bronze Age) activity,
and a few pieces are likely to be Palaeolithic in origin. This is in line with the likely chronological composition of the excavated assemblage. Other sites with notable Mesolithic components include
(using current nomenclature) East Park, Birkwood and Maryculter Bridge though fewer microliths were collected from the latter two sites.

The research has highlighted the interest of the collection, not least in the number of sites represented and the variety of material from each. Overall, the collection is clearly multi-period and
supportive of the existence of a focus of activity in the area of Crathes and Nethermills Farm that lasted, if not continuously, for several millennia in early prehistory. Not surprisingly, the most prolific site is that at Nethermills Farm which also has the most comprehensive evidence for Mesolithic activity (as represented by blades, blade cores and microliths) as well as some evidence for activity in other periods. While other sites also yielded Mesolithic material, a few of the smaller sites did not.  Nevertheless, the significance of the River Dee as a focus for activity throughout prehistory is confirmed.

The activity of a recent (HLF funded) fieldwalking project in the area has indicated that a considerable prehistoric resource survives in many of the fields, though the preservation of in situ
material has not been tested to date (test pitting is planned for East Park in November 2018 and field NM4 at Nethermills will be test pitted in February 2019).

One notable aspect of the recent catalogue is the apparent loss of some of the assemblage. While it is possible that Grieve’s original numbers were inaccurate, there is no reason to believe that Grieve was unable to count his material. It has thus to be concluded that over the years some pieces have gone missing. In some cases, specific categories are missing, suggesting that certain (nice) pieces had, perhaps, been laid aside for study (as with single platform cores at Park Bridge), or lent out for demonstration and exhibition. As the assemblage has been loaned out for examination on several occasions, it is also possible that some of the missing material has been lost in this process. It is also noteworthy that 166 pieces had become separated from their bags and now lack derivation. The drawbacks of the uncontrolled storage of lithic material in inadequate packaging within large boxes is clear. The collection has, no doubt, lain within the original packaging and, in the absence of funds for museums to repackage and catalogue material when it is accessioned, this situation must be replicated for other sites in various locations across the country. Work on the Grieve Collection is timely, work on other collections would no doubt also be repaid.

Future work
Production of a definitive report over the winter will discuss the reduction techniques, composition and chronological affinities of the material. Research in 2019 and 2020 will attempt to analyse the growth of the collection from Nethermills and any significant differences between material picked up at the different stages in the recent life of the site (1970s field walking; 1980s excavation; 1990-2018 fieldwalking).

Funding for the project has been provided by: The Society of Antiquaries of London; The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; The Marc Fitch Fund; and Aberdeenshire Council. All are to be thanked for their generous support. In addition, thanks must go to Jenny Pape of Aberdeen Museum and to Bruce Mann of Aberdeenshire Council for their enthusiastic support and facilitation.

A full PDF of this report (1Mb) with all tables is available here: grieve-interim-autumn-2018

CR Wickham-Jones
TB Ballin
November 2018

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