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Sarsen stone in southern Britain: an archaeological and ethno-historical approach to an ancient industry

Whitaker, K. A. (2023) Sarsen stone in southern Britain: an archaeological and ethno-historical approach to an ancient industry. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00112469


This thesis is an inter-disciplinary study of human engagement with the silcrete called sarsen stone, found dispersed across parts of south-central and south-eastern England and used prolifically since prehistory. Prehistoric sarsen megaliths (for example, Stonehenge) have dominated discussion of the cultural contexts of its use, but it enjoys a far longer relationship with people and, in those places where it is most abundant, more recent architectural sarsen fabric is an integral component informing sense-of-place. This thesis reveals the variety of Neolithic sarsen engagement, drawing that together with postmedieval sarsen industries to foreground some of the many ways that it has been exploited. By focussing on different chaînes opératoires studied through archaeological and ethnohistorical sources, I propose that sarsen stone behaves as a different material depending on the technical action applied to it and thus has the potential for varied ontological status dependent on context. A collection of six published papers, this thesis first contextualises archaeological perceptions of sarsen stone that have dominated scholarly study thus far. Newly-digitised datasets from the archived collections of twentieth century sarsen surveys are considered. Secondly, different modes of sarsen exploitation are explored through multi-scalar methodologies. A landscape approach is applied to quarries in Buckinghamshire and Wiltshire study areas, combining aerial investigation and analytical earthworks surveys with an eclectic range of archival sources to cast light on traditional sarsen-working practices. A new methodology, developed to habilitate excavated sarsen assemblages into archaeological analysis, is applied to material from Neolithic sites in Wiltshire including Marden henge and West Kennet Avenue, which with data from the Windmill Hill enclosure shows how common non-megalithic uses of sarsen were. Value in attending to this previously under-studied material in its own right is demonstrated, encouraging more detailed analysis in future research.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Bell, M.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Archaeology, Geography & Environmental Science
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science
ID Code:112469
Date on Title Page:September 2022


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