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A polissoir

We’ve found one! We’ve hit the jackpot in terms of Neolithic artefacts. A polissoir in South Dorset!

Photos © Historic England

Those of you who took part in our sarsen survey may remember that our primary objective was to map the distribution of natural sarsen stone across the Tenants Hill landscape (funded by the Farming in Protected Landscapes Fund (administered by Dorset AONB)). During the training Anne (jokingly) promised a bottle of whiskey to anyone who discovered a polissoir- a stone used during the Neolithic for polishing stone tools. They are as rare as hens teeth and we didn’t find one on Tenants Hill.

I can now announce, however, that ONE HAS BEEN FOUND nearby, in the Valley of Stones. Natural England and EuCan had cleared some undergrowth and, as a result of volunteer communication, we were invited for a look at newly exposed sarsens. Jim spotted it (but we all shared the whiskey)!

But what is a polissoir? Why is this stone important?

I can already hear you thinking, what is a polishing stone? Why would anyone want to polish stones in prehistory?

During the Neolithic period they used polished axes, hafted into wooden handles for woodworking, for a large variety of tasks from chopping down trees to building houses or monuments. These axes were polished on portable or 'earthfast' polissoirs. Stone axes also had a symbolic value. And were used, re-used and deposited in ritualistic contexts such as burials. Often they moved across large distances from the natural sources of the stone from which they are made.

Several examples of portable polissoirs have been found but there are only a handful that have been found on larger, ‘earth-fast’, stones such as ours. Several of these are in the Avebury area, and almost all have been moved from their original location. Some were moved in prehistory, such as those used to build West Kennet Long Barrow. Others have been spotted repurposed in farm walls! There is only one comparable, unmoved pollisoir known. It is also in near Avebury (Fyfield Down) and was excavated in 1963 but was also shown to have moved a little bit. We don't think ours has moved at all!

We have a chance to accurately date the use of the pollisoir. How long a time period was it used over? What sort of tools were being made here and what materials were they using? Are there any other features nearby or is it an isolated artefact?

It is incredibly exciting for us and we hope you feel the same way.

Historic England have also been so excited by the discovery that they are now undertaking a new survey of the Valley of Stones, The landscape contains many other important archaeological features which are poorly understood and we will continue to work with them to provide interesting, purposeful and research-led projects for participants to become involved with. Sign up here for our mailing list to hear about these opportunities.

The Valley of Stones © Historic England

The remarkable field systems and other archaeological features in the Valley of Stones are very visible from the air.

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