Archaeological Beauty from an Early Modernist Perspective

As an early modernist interested in Renaissance culture, pre-history has always seemed ungraspable. With no written sources, and few visuals, getting to grips with and interpreting any Paleo-, Meso- or Neolithic artefacts would require a whole new set of skills. However, getting to grips with, and literally grasping, is precisely what some of the objects I was able to examine over my workforce development programme in Local History and Archaeology, demanded of me. With beauty conjuring images of Michelangelo in my mind’s eye, I was surprised to discover that archaeological finds from Saddlescoombe, for instance, have revealed simple, beautiful and ergonomic objects.

Stone Age Hammerstone from Saddlescoombe
Stone Age Hammerstone from Saddlescoombe

In anticipation of the National Trust borrowing artefacts belonging to the Pavilion estate, I had the opportunity to handle various objects, in particular a hammerstone and flint tools. The Stone Age hammerstone, ovoid in shape and hard stone like quartzite was used to produce fractures in flint. What immediately occurred to me was that the original user must have had similarly sized hands to mine as my fingers fit comfortably into the valleys made by, or specifically chosen for, the user. Neither too heavy for use nor too light to be effective, the outer edge displays infinite incisions, like the surface of the moon, from its contact with harder objects. To my eye this piece has a quiet beauty I had not expected in something forged for such earthly practicalities.

Accordingly, the flints fabricated by the hammerstone reveal some intricacies of pre-historic human life. Carefully knapped to a precise serration and gracefully marbled, these tools and weapons, known collectively as ‘projectile points’, indicate behaviours of this area’s earliest residents. Whether these points were designed to be hafted (attached to a spear for instance) or not, suggests proximity to prey during hunting or its use for dismembering and skinning. Concomitantly, this has implications for any assumptions made of what kind of prey was, and where it was, targeted. In any case, the skilled practice of flint knapping and the inherent learning curve suggests aspects of social and communication skills indicative of studentship.

Knapped flint from Saddlescoombe
Knapped flint from Saddlescoombe

Through this programme I have had an introduction to another world of history that is simultaneously local in region and remote in discipline. I have quite literally got to grip with several objects whilst realising that to ‘get to grips with’ this period requires more than this programme allows. It has however opened up a new way of thinking about human development and preconceptions of what beautiful artefacts look like, and I’d like to thank the team in Local History and Archaeology for facilitating this.

Hannah Marshall-Quinn, Visitor Services Officer

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