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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Savage 1988: Hunters, Gatherers & the Messily Thick Age ..

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Thank you as usual to Richard Savage and the Crickley Hill Trust for permission to reproduce extracts from his 1988 booklet, "Village, Fortress, Shrine, Crickley Hill, Gloucestershire 3500BC to AD500".  This section covers the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic: until c.  4000 BC.   

Readers will have noticed that I post transcribed text as well as the scanned image of the page. That way readers can see Richard's beautiful pictures and search engines can find the text which gets you there in the first place. Crickley Hill Man is better than a two-fingers-, but by no means a touch-typist.  So to help me along with large swathes of text, I often use the excellent DragonDictate NaturallySpeaking software which types as you speak. It's pretty good and has come on leaps and bounds since I first saw dictation software many years ago, but does occasionally produce an entertaining typo.  In today's piece it offered "messily thick" instead of "mesolithic".  I'm sure you'll agree that it's a much better name for the middle stone age.  But for fear of a class action from ambulance-chasing lawyers acting for the denizens of the Mesolithic and their descendants I've reluctantly corrected the error.  I think I'd be able to make out a defence on the messy part but might be in trouble on the thick bit.  Maybe I spend too much time with lawyers.  

"The earliest human visitors to Britain - then still attached to northwestern Europe - were palaeolithic ("old stone age") groups, moving with their prey, who hunted and gathered their food here intermittently for at least a quarter of a million years.  We know of no traces of them on Crickley Hill itself, but their flint tools have been found on the Vale just below, at Great Witcombe, Brockworth and in the gravels of Barnwood. These include almost all the tools of this kind known from Gloucestershire outside the upper Thames Valley.  

Their successors, Mesolithic ("middle stone age") fishermen and hunters of deer, birds and the smaller forest animals, were perhaps the first communities to clear woodland by burning it to extend the grazing open to their prey, and may have done so in Gloucestershire, anticipating the labour of the farmers who followed them.  During that time (c.  8000 to 4000 BC) Britain was gradually separated from the Continent and approached its present outline as the ice sheets of the last ice age melted and the sea level rose.  On the upland within 3 km south and east of Crickley Hill four scatters of their flint tools are known: cores, scrapers (probably for cleaning the flesh from hides), heavier cutting tools, and the very small "microliths", intended for mounting as the points and blades of composite tools and weapons.  Only one is known from the Vale, at Barnwood, but it is difficult to believe that these people were confined to the uplands; it is likely that more finds will be made. [Illustration: Mesolithic flint tools: tranchet axe from Barnwood (length 89mm), and microliths from near Birdlip (lengths 31mm, 26mm, and 28mm) R Fitzpatrick]"

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