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Written in Stone

gdhkThis book, ably edited by Dr Ruth Shaffrey, is a collection of 15 papers, together with a Dedication, Introduction, Bibliography (of the dedicatee), and Index, assembled to commemorate the life and work of Fiona Roe (née Greig), one of the most influential pioneers of the application of geological knowledge and methods to the understanding of stone objects recovered from British archaeological sites.  Her early, and perhaps most important, studies concerned the character and provenance of axe-heads, battleaxes, mace-heads, adzes, and grindstones from mainly Prehistoric contexts. 

The emphasis in her later work lay on what are usually styled ‘items of worked stone’, including whetstones, one of the numerous specializations archaeologists have devised.  Many of these very numerous, short contributions stemmed from financially constrained developer-led excavations that left little if any scope for detailed post-excavation analysis.  There is consequently a certain tentative quality to these reports, with the occasional lithological attribution open to challenge.

There are three parts to the book: Implement Petrology and Typology; Prehistoric Querns: Form and Function; and Other Uses of Stone.  There is a good geographical balance in the topics examined.  The first two parts will be of most interest to geologists of an antiquarian persuasion.  Anderson-Whymark and others write about Prehistoric mace heads in Orkney.  Neolithic axe-heads of Cornish greenstone (dolerite/gabbro) and their groupings and distribution are the subject of a paper by Jones and colleagues. 

Davis contributes posthumously a searching account of the difficult subject of the provenance and distribution of axe-heads made from the very varied rocks of the Borrowdale Volcanic Group of central Cumbria, where around 600 production sites have so far been recognized.  There is here enormous scope for further work.  In Shetland, a local felsite has been exploited for a range of artefacts, as a study by Ballin with statistical support demonstrates.  Another igneous rock, the dolerite of the Whin Sill, is prominent among axe-heads and battle-axes distributed over Yorkshire (Manby).   As Fitzpatrick shows, the question of when lava querns from Germany began to appear in Britain remains contentious.

One or two pot-boilers aside, the papers are informative and interesting, of very good quality, and plentifully illustrated with photographs and drawings.  Here and there, however, the production standards call for comment.  Some photographs are too dark (e.g. figs. 4.6-7, 4.39), and others too small (e.g. figs. 10.3-5), to be of much use.  Some drawings have absurdly small lettering (e.g. figs. 4.2, 4.23, 8.1, 9.2, 13.5) and others are ill-planned and too crowded (e.g. fig. 2.2). These problems were avoidable.

Written in Stone is a stimulating read and a worthy addition to the literature, from which geologists can learn much about how archaeologists currently approach items of stone.  But the price, while perhaps not untoward, will be a deterrent.

Reviewed by J R L Allen

WRITTEN IN STONE - PAPERS ON THE FUNCTION, FORM AND PROVENANCING OF PREHISTORIC STONE OBJECTS IN MEMORY OF FIONA ROE by SHAFFREY, R (ed.), 2017, The Highfield Press, St. Andrews, i-xiv, pp. 356, ISBN 978-0-9926336-8-4-, Retail price: £50.00.