Flints, hammer stones & saddle querns - more interesting than it sounds

Updated: Jun 26, 2018

We're counting down to this year's dig and hoping that lots of people will come out to visit the site during the season. We're going to have special events and Living History re-enactors on site (thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund), and I got to thinking that it might be fun to have a wander down the shore and see how hard it would be for Neolithic people to find basic raw materials. It turned out to be fairly simple, at least down at Warebeth beach near Stromness, and in the space of a couple of hours I'd amassed quite a little collection of suitable hammer stones, possible saddle querns, quern rubbers and even a ready made pot lid:


Ready to use saddle querns, rubbers and hammerstones

Next up - try & make a few Skaill knives - a single-use basic scraper named after the Bay of Skaill where they were first recorded during the 19th century excavation at Skara Brae. George Petrie worked out that they were made by taking a suitable flagstone cobble and wapping it really hard on the rocky ground, hence breaking off a big flake that could be used as a scraper type tool. These are everywhere on Neolithic sites - V G Childe says that in his excavation at Skara Brae they stopped saving them as they were so numerous. It's harder than it looks, but I did get a fair few in the end:


Home made Skaill knives

The trick is getting just the right thickness of flag cobble - too thick & it doesn't break at all or just shatters & sprays you with shrapnel.


Flint is rather harder to manage in Orkney - there is some along the eastern side of Orkney, embedded in the boulder clay by ice sheets dragging it in from offshore deposits, but you have to spend ages scouring the shore for it. I cheated and went out to the Point of Ness where a ship called the Herald ran ashore in 1847 and there's a load of flint ballast on the beach. I got this little lot in a couple of hours but it took me three trips with a rucksack and a whole bag of custard doughnuts to get it back to the Landy:


Flint haul being inspected by Patch the quality control collie

Some lovely big nodules there and I'd like to tell you that I spent several days industriously knapping and this was the end result:


All knapped by my own fair hand...honest!

But I'd be lying - I got this little lot cheap as slight seconds on Ebay - maybe I'll learn to knap next winter - or should that be take extended naps?


  • Follow us on Facebook
  • Follow us on Twitter
  • Visit our YouTube channel
  • Follow us on Instagram

Swandro - Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust 

Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation No: SC047002 

Patron: His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay

Registered office: Bayview Birsay Orkney KW17 2LR   email: info@swandro.co.uk