ASSESSMENT AND DESCRIPTION OF PREHISTORIC WORKED FLINTS FROM BERRY
HEAD, BRIXHAM (TORBAY): BRIXHAM HERITAGE MUSEUM EXCAVATIONS 2010 - 2012
By PHILIP L. ARMITAGE and TIM GENT
This report presents the results of an analysis by the authors of a collection of 1,380 prehistoric
worked flints from excavations carried out by Brixham Heritage Museum on Berry Head (Brixham,
Torbay), 2010 to 2012. Debitage (flint-knapping waste products) predominates the collection,
revealing initial working of raw materials and probable tool production occurred at the site. Among
the relatively few tools recovered, three leaf-shaped arrowheads are indicative of an early Neolithic
production. Although there is no obvious Mesolithic component, part of the blade-rich assemblage
may date from this period. Whilst not as extensive a lithic assemblage as that from Churston Court
Farm (over 2,408 worked flints and eight stone axes; Pearson 1981) the Berry Head material
nevertheless has contributed to our knowledge of prehistoric activity at the southern end of Torbay.
Grants received from the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) Challenge Fund and Torbay Coast
and Countryside Trust (TCCT) enabled the curator of Brixham Heritage Museum, Philip Armitage,
to identify, catalogue and carry out a detailed study of a collection of prehistoric worked flints, with
the assistance of archaeological consultant Tim Gent (Archaedia, Winkleigh, Devon). These ancient
flints were recovered from Berry Head, Brixham (Torbay, Devon) during excavations carried out by
the Museum's volunteer archaeological team directed by Armitage, in 2010 and 2011 (NGR centred
on SX 9389 5649) and 2012 (NGR centred on SX 9388 5650).
Background to the site excavations and methodology
A series of excavations started in 2000 located buried structural remains and refuse dumps associated
with two Victorian cottages built at the edge of Berry Head Common (Figure 1) (see P. L. Armitage
and K. H. Armitage 2005). The more recent excavations of 2010 and 2011, in addition to producing
evidence of activity at the site in Napoleonic, Victorian and WW2 times, yielded small quantities of
prehistoric worked flints, indicating the potential of the site to provide evidence of prehistoric activity
in the area. Prompted by these lithic discoveries a more extensive excavation was conducted during
2012, which yielded considerably more worked flints, bringing the total number recovered to 1,380.
The greatest proportion of the flints, 1,188 (86 %) came from the fine-grained, reddish-brown gritty
sandy layer, immediately overlying the Devonian limestone bedrock (Figure 2). This soil horizon
(designated as context 104) includes a component from the weathered cap of the adjacent Neptunian
dyke (identified by Dr Chris Proctor) situated on the southern edge of the excavated area, at NGR SX
93892 56496. Almost exclusively devoid of finds other than the flints (except in a limited area on the
south western side of the enclosure near the gateway, where there were small intrusive fragments of
Victorian pottery present), context 104 is believed to be an essentially securely stratified remnant of
the old prehistoric land surface, which preserves an undisturbed spatial pattern of flint deposition. In
order to maximise recovery of the flints, the layer was carefully hand towelled down to the surface of
the underlying bedrock, with the removed spoil sieved through 5mm and 2mm meshes. There were
also 192 flints (14%/total) recovered from reworked soil/dumped deposits (context nos. 98, 100, 103,
150/151 & 231) containing Napoleonic era and/or Victorian potsherds/artefacts. These contexts were
again hand towelled and the spoil processed through 5 mm mesh sieves. Recording of the locations of
the flints in the field allowed their spatial distribution pattern across the excavated area to be mapped
Analysis and results
A sample of 428 flints was sent to Tim Gent (Archaedia) for initial assessment and identification,
followed by full post-excavation processing (identification, cataloguing and analysis) at Brixham
Heritage Museum. Classification of the flints during processing followed the terminology of Ballin
(2000). Measurements were taken on selected flints using Draper dial callipers (graduated 0.02 mm).
Weights of the cores were obtained using a Truweigh digital scale (250g x 0.1 g).
The collection, together with the catalogue, is held by Brixham Heritage Museum. Under the
recording system of the museum, the collection has been assigned Accession Nos. 7853.1 to
Table 1 summarises the categories of flints from each excavated context.
DESCRIPTIONS OF THE LITHICS
Apart from several grey cherty specimens, the flints are whitened by patination, with many also
exhibiting dark blotching/dendritic surface patterning due to iron-oxide (haematite) staining,
reflecting post-depositional effects from the iron rich nature of the soil from the proximity to the
Neptunian dyke. A mid-grey flint is exposed in the limited cases where the patination has been
removed or is partial. Where present, the cortex is heavily abraded and the beach pebble origin of the
raw material is obvious. Signs of burning are seen in 29 pieces.
Debitage (knapping by-products)
Cores - Thirty two cores are present. Five of these are bashed, heavily reduced lumps with no
perceptible platforms remaining and represent cores that seemingly were worked to exhaustion,
perhaps indicating a desire by the flint knapper to maximise the use of a limited source of raw
material. Of the remaining 27, the majority are of the single-platform type with flakes/blades removed
part of way round (Class A2, system of Clark et al 1960: 216). Three selected examples are illustrated
in Figure 4 Nos. 8, 9 & 10.
Omitting the bashed/exhausted specimens, the cores averaged in weight 51.1 g (range 13.0 g to 116.7
g, standard deviation 28.98, N = 27). In comparison, the bashed/exhausted specimens averaged 16.5 g
(range 3.0 g to 29.4 g, N = 5).
Flakes - There are 91 primary flakes, 28 blade core trimming flakes and 939 secondary & tertiary
Blades - A total of 126 blades or broken blades are present, many displaying proximal ends with
well-prepared striking positions.
Chips - 151 very small struck flint pieces, with greatest diameters less than 10 mm, were collected at
the site, both from sieving and by hand troweling.
Only 13 finished or partly-finished tools are included in the collection:
Arrowheads (3) - An example of a finished leaf-shaped arrow head of high quality is represented
(7853.208), measuring 28.8 mm long x 16.0 mm wide (Figure 4.5); which has the edges strengthened
by retouch and with invasive retouching across both surfaces. This specimen is similar to Green type
3B example Q, of unusual shape: small, with "teardrop" tip combined with a pointed butt. The Berry
Head specimen resembles arrowhead 4 from Salcombe Hill, Sidmouth (Pollard and Luxton 1978: Fig.
The remaining two probable arrowheads are also very small and simple diamond shaped projectiles,
with only very minor retouching along each side. The retouching does not extend for any distance
across the flat surface of these arrowheads. The smaller example (7853.240) (Figure 4.7) measuring
17.3 mm x 14.5 mm, has what appears to be a broken butt. The lack of intrusive flaking, and the
relatively thick butt of the larger example (7853.25) (Figure 4.6) (21.5 mm x 18.3 mm) may indicate
that these are unfinished rough outs. The apparent breakage to the smaller piece may well be the
reason that it was abandoned. Although unfinished, in size and shape the intact piece (7853.25) bears
some resemblance to the more finished arrowhead 84 from Poldowrian in Cornwall (Olaf Bayer pers.
comm.; Smith and Harris 1982).
Backed knife - A single heavily patinated backed knife with steep retouch on the edge was recovered
(7853.46), measuring 55.2 mm x 29.5 mm x 8.3 mm. Figure 4.1.
Scrapers (4) - Among the four recovered examples there is a composite scraper (7853.229) measuring
58.9 mm x 37.0 mm x 15.8 mm. Figure 4.2.
Point/awl - The single specimen recovered (7853.12) is strongly pointed and exhibits a strong whitish
patination. Figure 4.3.
Notched flakes (3) - Three specimens are present Including 7853.15 of mid mottled grey black flint
with retouching. Figure 4.4.
Chopping tool - There is a large (79.3 mm x 59.6 mm x 42.2 mm) bifacially flaked, chopping tool
made on a beach pebble (7853.246) of pale grey colouration with cortex present. Figure 5.
INTERPRETATION and DISCUSSION
The presence of cores and significant amounts of flint knapping waste with high proportions of
primary flakes, reveal that initial reduction of raw material was taking place on site. This is perhaps
not surprising considering the obvious pebble-flint origins. Tool production may also have taken
place. The presence of scrapers suggests some domestic activity, such as animal skin/hide preparation
or food processing, was also taking place in the vicinity, and the presence of burnt flint supports
this probable indication of some form of settlement. The notched flakes possibly were intended to
trim/smooth slender sticks such as arrow shafts, as suggested by Pollard and Luxton (1978: 184)
for similarly modified flakes from Salcombe Hill, Sidmouth. On the basis of their dimensions, all
three leaf-shaped arrowheads from the site fall within the domestic category defined by Devaney, R.
2005: 11 - 12, who observed that unlike the longer and broader purely ceremonial form, these smaller
arrowheads were less easily damaged and more efficient when used in hunting or warfare
Considering the date of the recovered material, the presence of the crudely fashioned pebble chopping
tool provides no chronological insight as such forms are found in Lower Palaeolithic as well as
Mesolithic lithic assemblages (Palmer 1977: 29 - 30) and there is even an Iron Age example from
Jeavons Lane, Cambridgeshire (Fig. 27.5,p.67; Leivers 2009:78). Nor does the presence of patination
provide a pointer as to the age of the Berry Head flints. Contrary to the tendency of many workers
who have viewed the presence or absence of patination as an indicator of relative age in lithic
material, recent research (Glauberman & Thorson 2012) demonstrated the incidence and degree
of patination in prehistoric flints is due to complex post-depositional processes, reflecting local
geochemical influences. Based on this latest research, it is suggested the location of the Berry Head
lithic material in a horizon directly overlying the limestone bedrock and proximity to the Neptunian
Permian sandstone dyke most likely explains the occurrence of patination.
The leaf-shaped arrowheads however are clearly indicative of an early Neolithic production, and
the apparent preference for blade production would also fit a flint working technology of this date.
No obvious indication of Mesolithic component, such as microliths or microlith production waste
(microburins) has been identified, but this might well not be present in a collection of this size and
cannot be taken as evidence that humans were absent from this prominent location at that time. At
least part of this blade-rich assemblage may date from this period.
Further excavations are planned at the site and may produce additional lithic evidence which could
perhaps clarify the dating and nature of the site occupation in the prehistoric period and also pinpoint
specifically where the tool production had taken place through application of analysis of debitage
dispersal (see Kvamme 1997). A further aspect meriting attention and resolution is to determine
where exactly was the location(s) of the source of beach pebbles/cobbles utilized for the tool making.
Grateful thanks goes to Brixham Heritage Museum's volunteer Archaeological Team whose
enthusiastic dedication and unstinted efforts in the field were responsible for recovering the flints.
Former head countryside ranger at the Berry Head National Nature Reserve Nigel Smallbones and his
staff greatly assisted the site investigations. Torquay Museum Young Explorers Club members also
participated. Sincere thanks to Kate Armitage for the flint drawings and to Robert Rouse for the site
plans/section profile. Technical advice was kindly provided by Dr Chris Proctor, Dr Olaf Bayer and
Karl Lee (flint knapper). Thanks are also due to Gill Bedford and Louise Cresswell for assistance in
cataloguing the lithic collection.
For funding the post-excavation analysis costs we acknowledge and thank the Council for British
Archaeology Challenge Fund and Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust. Brixham Heritage Museum is
supported by Torbay Council.
Gent, T. 2012 Berry Head Flint Assessment. Report on file: Brixham Heritage Museum.
Proctor, C. 2010 Report on Iron Concretions from the Berry Head Cottage Excavation. Report on
file: Brixham Heritage Museum.
Published references cited
Armitage, P. L. and Armitage, K. H. 2005 A rare temperance teacup. Council for British
Archaeology South-West Journal No. 15 - Summer, AD2005: 27 - 30.
Ballin, T. B. 2000 Classification and description of lithic artefacts: a discussion of the basic lithic
terminology. Lithics: The Journal of the Lithic Studies Society 21: 9 - 15.
Berridge, P. J. and Simpson, S. J. 1992 The Mesolithic, Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Site at
Bulleigh Meadow, Marldon. Devon Archaeological Society Proceedings No. 50: 1 - 18.
Clark, J. G. D., Higgs, E. S. And Longworth, I. H. 1960 Excavations at the Neolithic site at Hurst
Fen, Mildenhall, Suffolk (1954, 1957 and 1958) Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society vol. 26: 202 -
Devaney, R. 2005 Ceremonial and domestic flint arrowheads. Lithics: The Journal of the Lithic
Studies Society 26: 9 - 22.
Glauberman, P. J. and Thorson, R. M. 2012 Flint patina as an aspect of 'flaked stone taphonomy': a
case study from the loess terrain of the Netherlands and Belgium. Journal of Taphonomy volume 10
(issue 1): 21 - 43.
Green, H. S. 1980 The Flint Arrowheads of the British Isles, Part i. Oxford: B. A. R. British Series
Kvamme, K. L. 1997 Patterns and models of debitage dispersal in percussion flaking. Lithic
Technology, volume 22, no. 2: 122 - 136.
Leivers, M. 2009 Later Prehistoric material culture pp. 74 - 78 in J. Wright, M. Leivers, R. S. Smith
and C. J. Stevens Bambourne New Settlement. Iron Age and Romano-British Settlement on the Clay
Uplands of West Cambridgeshire. Wessex Archaeology Report No. 23.
Palmer, S. 1977 Mesolithic Cultures of Britain. Poole, Dorset: Dolphin Press.
Pearson, M. P. 1981 A Neolithic and Bronze Age site at Churston, South Devon. Devon
Archaeological Society Proceedings No. 39: 17 - 26.
Pollard, S. and Luxton, S 1978 Neolithic and Bronze Age occupation on Salcombe Hill, Sidmouth.
Devon Archaeological Society Proceedings No. 36: 181 - 190.
Smith, G. and Harris, D. The excavations of Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age Settlements at
Poldowrian, St Keverne, 1980. Cornwall Archaeology, 84, 23-66.
Addresses: Philip L. Armitage, Curator, Brixham Heritage Museum, Brixham, Devon TQ5 8LZ, UK,
e-mail: email@example.com; Tim Gent, Archaedia, Roseleigh, Winkleigh, Devon EX19 8EY,
CAPTIONS TO THE FIGURES
Figure 1: Berry Head: site location.
Figure 2: Berry Head: section profile.
Figure 3: Berry Head: plan showing distribution of the prehistoric worked flints
Figure 4: Berry Head: drawings of selected flints.
Figure 5: Berry Head: chopping tool