Prehistoric Brits used rare rock crystals to mark burial sites, research finds
Distinctive and rare rock crystals were moved over long distances by Early Neolithic Brits and were used to mark their burial sites, according to groundbreaking new archaeological research.
Evidence for the use of rock crystal – a rare type of perfectly transparent quartz which forms in large hexagonal gems – has occasionally been found at prehistoric sites in the British Isles, but little investigation has previously been done specifically into how the material was used and its potential significance.
A group of archaeologists from The University of Manchester worked with experts from the University of Cardiff and Herefordshire County Council on a dig at Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire, a mile south of another dig at Arthur’s Stone. There, they studied a complex of 6000-year-old timber halls, burial mounds and enclosures from the Early Neolithic period, when farming and agriculture arrived in Britain for the first time.
The crystals would have looked very unusual in comparison to other stones they used, and are extremely distinctive as they emit light when hit or rubbed together and produce small patches of rainbow – we argue that their use would have created memorable moments that brought individuals together, forged local identities and connected the living with the dead whose remains they were deposited with. Dr Nick Overton
The researchers plan to study materials found at other sites to discover whether people were working with this material in similar ways, in order to uncover connections and local traditions. They also intend to look at the chemical composition of the crystal to find out if they can track down its specific source.
The paper can be accessed on the Cambridge Archaeological Journal: https://www.doi.org/10.1017/S0959774322000142.