The Mesolithic is the name given to the period between the end of the last
ice age, 12,000 years ago, and the beginning of settled farming around 5,500 years ago. After the ice melted, cutting deep
river valleys in the chalk downs, hunting parties began to visit England regularly, following the herds of game.
They found the South Downs covered with flint nodules eroded from the
chalk and deposited by glacial meltwaters and used these flints to make
their hunting weapons and tools.
They invented many
new tools, including the Tranchet adze, a carpentry tool designed to
make fishing platforms, boats, and perhaps houses. It is made to be
re-sharpened by knapping a crosswise flake (tranchet flake) from the
working tip. The Mesolithic also saw greater use of hafted picks.
A Mesolithic tranchet adze from Hampshire. This carpentry tool is designed to be re-sharpened by
taking an additional crossswise (tranchet) flake across the
working tip of the tool.
Found in Hampshire. Age around 8,000 years.
151mm x 48mm, 406 gms.
Mesolithic people used a wide variety of scrapers - end scrapers,
side scrapers and combined scrapers, probably to turn raw hides into
clothing, tents and other utilities. Some were large and heavy -
up to 10 centimetres and possibly hafted, while others were so small and
delicate they could scarcely be held by adult fingers. Some were flakes
that were retouched, others were made on blades (flakes more than
twice as long as they are wide). Some examples are illustrated below.
This exceptionally large side scraper may have been
used in the hand or may have been hafted.
Platform with prominent bulb of percussion. The
right edge is retouched.
Found on the South Downs in Hampshire. 86mm x
55mm, 98 gms.
Mesolithic people were adept at making the most of their flint
resources and sometimes produced flake tools designed to serve more than
one purposes, such as these examples.
A multi-purpose Mesolithic flake tool.
The curved long edge is a knife, the opposite side backed off with
abrupt restouch. The end has been retouched
as a spokeshave for planing arrows or spears and the maker has
cleverly left a sharp point between the two as a piercing tool.
70mm x 39mm. About 8,000 years old. From a field in Sussex.
Mesolithic flake adapted to several purposes. 58mm x 34mm. The
proximal end has been adapted to a piercing point. Both edges have
been retouched as side scrapers, with a notch on one. The distal
end has been retouched as an end scraper. Found in West Sussex.
Age about 8,000 years.
Mesolithic flake, 56mm x 40mm, with bulb of percussion, that has
been retouched on one side and the distal end as a combined end
and side scraper. It has been patinated white by chalk soil.
Found in West Sussex. Age around 8,000 years.
Our Mesolithic ancestors were often extremely accomplished at the
difficult art of striking straight, flat, parallel-sided flakes of great
length to make the finest tools. The first two blades illustrated
below are of exceptional delicacy and size. The second two equally fine
yet very small.
With superb control
the Mesolithic knapper has struck a blade that is 64mm x 29mm
and only 9mm thick, 30 gms, with no discernible curvature along
The Mesolithic was the age of the flake and the blade.
Mesolithic hunter-gatherers sought out high quality flint
and made the most of the flint available to make tools based on
flakes and blades (flakes more than twice as long as
wide). It is common to find used up and part-used flint
cores like the following examples at their camp sites.
flake core 41mm x 36mm x 50mm high, from which numerous flakes
have been struck. The edges are untrimmed.
The people of the Mesolithic developed new lithic
technologies, chief among which was the microlith - small stone tools,
used to make arrow heads,
spears, and other weapons and tools. Microliths are sometimes
found in large quantites at sites of Mesolithic age. They were fixed to
wooden or bone shafts with resin and probably twine.
Burins are flint flakes or blades that have had a a short length,
named the burin spall, removed from the top by a soft hammer to create a
sharp thin chisel edge. Burins are believed to have been used to score
bones and antlers to create thin lengths that could be prised out and further worked to
become fishing points or needles. The following are two examples.
This small blade has
had a flake removed at an angle from the top (a burin spall) to
create a tool for cutting and gouging strips from bone and
When Mesolithic people struck - or found - a long sharp blade, they
would often back-off or abruptly retouch the opposing long edge so that
the blade could be held and used as a knife. Here are two
This Mesolithic backed
knife from a field in West Sussex has been abruply retouched
along the right hand side to make handling easier.
Mesolithic flake, with platform, bulb of percussion and
bulbar scar, retouched on the convex long edge as a side scraper.
61mm x 35mm. The toolmaker has left a ridge of cortex on the
opposing side as a grip.
Mesolithic flake (not quite a blade) 61mm x 35mm with platform and
bulb of percussion, retouched down one side as a scraper and
abruptly retouched at 45 degrees down the opposing side as a
finger rest. A small area of cortex is left at the distal
Mesolithic blade, 70mm x 28mm, with bulb of percussion and
terminating in a hinge fracture (termed an overshot blade). Finely
retouched down one edge as a side scraper. A small area of cortex
has been left at the distal end.
blade, 76mm x 28mm, that has been extensively retouched at the
distal end and adjacent sides. A small amount of cortex has been
left, also at the distal end. This may have have some special
blade, 74mm x 27mm, prominent bulb of percussion. It has been
retouched down one side as a side scraper and also abruptly
retouched at 80 to 90 degrees down one side and at the proximal
end to provide grip. A triangular area of coretex has been left.
Sussex Downs. Age around 8,000 years.
Mesolithic flake, 55mm x 35mm, with well developed platform, bulb
of percussion and bulbar scar. Cortex has been left on one edge to
aid grip. The distal end has been retouched into a two
notches, forming a central point.
Mesolithic side scraper. The long edge has been retouched to
sharpen it while the other side has been left covered with cortex
for ease of use. Probably used to prepare hides for clothes and
unusual Mesolithic flake, 82mm x 50mm. Cortex has been left on the
distal end. The side has been retouched as a scraper and the
proximal end has been retouched to form a concave spokeshave and
rounded 'beak' of unknown purpose.
flake 70mm x 40mm with platform, striking point and bulbar scar.
One long side and both the proximal and distal ends have been
retouched to form a scraper. The apparent 'point' is accidental.