Another pitchstone fragment from the Ness

The 32nd fragment of pitchstone recovered at the Ness.

Another flake of Arran pitchstone has turned up during the analysis of soil samples from Structure Eight.

Pitchstone is a volcanic glass, similar to obsidian, and its nearest source is the isle of Arran, off the south-west coast of Scotland. In Orkney, it has only been found at the Ness site and the Barnhouse Settlement, 400 metres to the east.

The latest fragment brings the Ness’ pitchstone total to 32 – the largest Orcadian assemblage to date. The Barnhouse Settlement yielded 26 pieces.

The presence of pitchstone has long suggested that long-distance travel  took place in the Neolithic and last year a study by Dr Hugo Anderson Whymark, of the National Museums Scotland, suggested the Ness examples may have been brought to Orkney by visitors, who used it to create tools in Structure Eight.

Some of the Arran pitchstone found on site. (Hugo Anderson Whymark)

Hugo explained: “What’s really interesting about the 2018 material is a collection of seven pieces from a single occupation layer in Structure Eight. These pieces could all be from the same cobble of pitchstone, although none refit, and the group includes three blades/microblades and three small chips.

“The latter strongly indicate knapping within Structure Eight, while the blade orientated reduction is characteristic of pitchstone knapping further south in Scotland during the Late Neolithic.

“This is potentially significant as blade reduction is not characteristic of Late Neolithic flintworking in Orkney and, given the challenges of knapping pitchstone, it seems plausible that we are dealing with a knapper familiar with working this material.

“While not a huge revelation, this provides a good indication that pitchstone came up with folk from down south.”