Mesolithic microliths from Retreat Field, Topsham

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Mesolithic microliths from Retreat Field, Topsham

Microliths are tiny stone blades, obliquely blunted down one or more of their edges. They are the most diagnostic artefacts of the Mesolithic, and show that people were hunting in the Exeter area.

The climatic shift of the early Mesolithic brought great environmental change. The open plains of the upper Palaeolithic were replaced by dense enclosed woodland where game was less predictable to track. Under such conditions Mesolithic hunter-gatherers had to modify their tool kit to suit this new environment. This was achieved by hunting with arrows with multiple barbs (microliths) embedded in their shafts. This reduced the likelihood of total weapon failure when hunting, for if one barb broke several others could perform its function. Furthermore, replacement barbs could be quickly knapped from a small blade-core and easily inserted into the arrow shaft. Thus Mesolithic people adapted by making their tool kit more reliable.

Acknowledgments: © 2015 Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter City Council

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