The Role of Felsite in Neolithic Shetland

William Megarry, Gabriel Cooney

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The Shetland Islands are the northernmost part of Europe where agriculture was practiced during the Neolithic. Separated from Orkney and mainland Scotland by 160 kilometres of often turbulent ocean, people on Neolithic Shetland developed unique styles and fashions, indicating a potentially insular and closed society. These are most clearly evident in the evolution of distinctive megalithic tomb traditions, and in the exploitation and creation of polished stone ‘Shetland knives’. Between 2012 and 2017, the North Roe Felsite Project (NRFP) explored the extraction and distribution of polished stone tools in Shetland. These tools – both knives and axes – are quarried from felsite, an attractive blue-gray rock which occurs as linear north-south dykes in the Northmavine region, North Mainland. Geological analysis of artefacts and dykes suggest that all artefacts were quarried from a number of quarry sites, all in the Northmavine region and forming part of a quarry complex or landscape. From these quarries, felsite is exported within (but apparently not without) the archipelago. The island-wide context of exploitation will be explored in this paper which will summarise results from the project but also present a research agenda for future work focused on the distribution and archaeological contexts of felsite. Based on dates obtained during the project, it will propose that targeted studies of contemporary Early and Middle Neolithic settlements are essential to fully understand the island Neolithic and facilitate a better understanding of the beginnings of this distinctive insular Neolithic society.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 05 Sep 2018
EventEuropean Association of Archaeologists 2019 - Barcelona - University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Duration: 05 Sep 201809 Sep 2018


ConferenceEuropean Association of Archaeologists 2019 - Barcelona


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