Hundreds of fragments of a rare type of transparent quartz called “rock crystal” indicate that Neolithic people used the mineral to decorate tombs and other structures at a ceremonial site in western England, Archaeologists Say.
The rock crystals were likely brought to the site from a source more than 80 miles (130 kilometers) away, over mountainous terrain, and the crystals appear to have been carefully crushed into much smaller pieces, possibly during a community gathering to watch the work of what seemed like a magical substance. .
“You can think of it as a really special event,” Nick Overton, an archaeologist at the University of Manchester in England, told Live Science.
“It feels like they’re focusing a lot on doing work [the crystal] …people will remember her as special and different.”
Overton is the lead author of a study published in July in the Journal Cambridge Archaeological Journal He describes the discovery of more than 300 pieces of these quartz crystals at a 6,000-year-old ceremonial site in Durston Hill in western England, about a mile (1.6 km) south of the monument known as the Arthur’s Stone.
In addition to being as transparent as water, many crystal fragments are prismatic, and are divided into white light in the visible rainbow spectrum.
Quartz crystals are also triluminescent — that is, they emit flashes of light when they strike — and this strange property must have enhanced the crystal’s breaking into smaller pieces, Overton said.
“If you hit two of these crystals together, they emit little flashes of bluish light, which is really cool,” Overton explained.
“It must have been an engaging experience – the material is so rare and quite special in this period that there is no glass and no other solid transparent material.”
Landscape from the Neolithic era
Archaeologists believe the ancient structures at Dorstone Hill and Arthur’s Stone were part of the early Neolithic, or Neolithic, ceremonial landscape Built 1000 years before Stonehengewhich was built nearly 5,000 years ago on Salisbury Plain, about 80 miles to the southeast.
Local legends associate Arthur Stone with the legendary King Arthuralthough it would have already been thousands of years old by its time, if it ever existed.
Durston Hill is the site of the “Halls of the Dead,” three wooden buildings that were deliberately burned down and replaced by three earthen burial mounds in the Neolithic era, probably after the death of a local leader.
Archaeologists believe that an earthen mound at the site of Arthur Stone once indicated the halls of the dead, the remains of which were discovered in 2013. But later mounds were aligned in both structures with a prominent gap in the mounds to the south.
Overton said rock crystal fragments were scattered around the Durston Hill site but were concentrated in the burial mounds. Some of the largest fragments appear to have been placed as funerary belongings within burial pits that also contain cremated human bones.
He said the first piece of crystal seen by modern prospectors was mistaken for a piece of glass, but the team soon found more pieces that were still as transparent as they were when they were made.
“It looked like glass, but then we noticed it was a different color,” Overton said. And we started thinking, ‘Blemmy, maybe that’s something else. “So it really got us in the mindset of looking for things.”
There are no local sources of rock crystal, Overton said, and so it is likely that the transparent mineral originated at one of two known sites since the Neolithic period: one in a cave in the Snowdonia Mountains in North Wales, about 80 miles away; and one at St David’s Head on the southwest coast of Wales, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) away.
It appears that the mineral was transported to Durston Hill in the form of crystals as large as 4 inches (10 centimeters) long, possibly through a trading network that transported them from further afield, he said.
The analysis indicates that the large crystals were expertly “bonded” to the techniques used in flint — which were deliberately broken up into smaller pieces — but the resulting fragments did not form into tools anymore, he said.
Instead, many of these very small chips were collected and deposited in structures on the site, especially above burial mounds, Overton said.
Our largest piece is 34 mm [1.3 inches] at length.” This gives researchers an idea of the size of the original crystals, which can help narrow down their source; they also hope to conduct chemical tests of the fragments that could reveal a ‘geological fingerprint’ of where they came from.
Overton said the 337 pieces of Durston Hill represent the largest group of wrought rock crystal pieces ever found in Britain and Ireland. Pieces of quartz rock crystal have also been found at other Neolithic burial sites in Britain and Ireland, but they were mostly overlooked before.
“I felt it was really important to point out how amazing and interesting this material is,” Overton said.
“And it may help us think about other aspects of [the Neolithic] period, such as trade or exchange contacts, as well as the way people think about and interact with materials.”
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