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‘Magical’ rock crystals bought at Stone Age ceremonial site in England

A fragment of transparent quartz crystal found at Neolithic burial site.

A lot more than 300 fragments of transparent quartz rock crystal have been found at the first Neolithic burial site at Dorstone Hill, sometimes in the ancient graves themselves.(Image credit: Nick Overton)

A huge selection of fragments of a rare transparent kind of quartz called “rock crystal” suggest Neolithic people used the mineral to decorate graves along with other structures at a ceremonial site in western England, archaeologists (opens in new tab) say.

The rock crystals were likely taken to the site from the source a lot more than 80 miles (130 kilometers) away, over mountainous terrain, and the crystals may actually have already been carefully broken into much smaller pieces, possibly throughout a community gathering to view the working of what will need to have appeared like a magical material.

“It is possible to think about it as an extremely other dressing up event,” Nick Overton, an archaeologist at The University of Manchester in England, told Live Science. “It feels as though they’re putting plenty of focus on the practice of working [the crystal] people could have remembered it to be distinctive and various.”

Overton may be the lead writer of a report published in July in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal (opens in new tab) that describes the discovery greater than 300 of the quartz crystal fragments at a 6,000-year-old ceremonial site at Dorstone Hill in western England, in regards to a mile (1.6 km) south of the monument referred to as Arthur’s Stone. And also being almost as transparent as water, many of the crystal fragments are prismatic, splitting white light (opens in new tab) right into a visible rainbow spectrum.

Archaeologists think the quartz crystals were taken to the Neolithic burial site in the west of England probably from the north or southwest of Wales. (Image credit: Nick Overton)

Quartz crystal can be triboluminescent that’s, it offers off flashes of light if it is struck and that peculiar property will need to have enhanced the procedure of breaking the crystals into smaller fragments, Overton said.

Related: Back again to the Stone Age: 17 key milestones in Paleolithic life

“In the event that you bash two of the crystals together, they emanate little flashes of bluish light, that is really fascinating,” Overton explained. “It will need to have been an arresting experience the material is fairly rare and quite distinctive in this era where there is absolutely no glass no other solid transparent material.”

Neolithic landscape

Overview of a Neolithic burial site at Dorstone Hill in the west of England. Here we see a large rectangle that has been dug up in a grassy field. There are a lot of people working on the site.

The rock crystal fragments were found atan early Neolithic ceremonial site at Dorstone Hillin the west of England that’sthought to possess been built about 6,000 years back. (Image credit: Adam Stanford)

Archaeologists think ancient structures at Dorstone Hill and Arthur’s Stone were section of an early on Neolithic, or New Stone Age, ceremonial landscape developed 1,000 years before Stonehenge (opens in new tab), that was constructed roughly 5,000 years back on Salisbury Plain, about 80 miles to the southeast.

Local legends link Arthur’s Stone to the mythical King Arthur (opens in new tab), though it would have recently been thousands of yrs . old by his time, if he ever existed. Dorstone Hill may be the site of the “Halls of the Dead,” three timber buildings which were deliberately burned down and replaced by three earthen burial mounds in Neolithic times, possibly following a local leader had died. Archaeologists think an earthen mound at the Arthur’s Stone site once pointed to the Halls of the Dead, the remains which were discovered in 2013. But later mounds at both structures were aligned to a prominent gap in the hills south.

The remains of three large timber buildings the Halls of the Dead were built at Dorstone Hill, but were deliberately burned down and replaced with earthen burial mounds. (Image credit: Julian Thomas)

Overton said the rock crystal fragments were scattered round the Dorstone Hill site but were concentrated in the burial mounds. A few of the largest fragments appear to have already been placed as grave goods inside buried pits that also held cremated human bones.

The initial little bit of crystal that the present day excavators saw was recognised incorrectly as a bit of glass, however the team soon found a lot more which are still as transparent because they were if they were made, he said.

“It appeared as if glass, but we noticed it had been another color,” Overton said. “And we began to think, ‘Blimey, maybe that is another thing.’ In order that really got us in the mindset of searching for the stuff.”

Rock crystal

Overton said there have been no local resources of rock crystal, therefore it’s likely that the transparent mineral originated at 1 of 2 sites known since Neolithic times: one in a cave in the mountains of Snowdonia in the north of Wales, about 80 miles away; and something at St David’s At once the southwest coast of Wales, about 100 miles (160 km) away.

It appears that the mineral was transported to Dorstone Hill by means of large crystals around 4 inches (10 centimeters) long, possibly by way of a trading network that brought them from farther afield, he said.

Analysis shows that the large crystals were then expertly “knapped” with the techniques useful for flint deliberately broken into smaller pieces however the resulting fragments weren’t formed into tools afterward, he said. Rather, several very small chips were then collected and deposited at structures at the website, especially on the burial mounds, Overton said.

“The biggest piece we’ve is 34 millimeters [1.3 inches] long,” he said. That provides the researchers a concept of what size the initial crystals will need to have been, that could help narrow down their origin; in addition they desire to conduct chemical tests of the fragments which could reveal a “geological signature” of where they originated from.

The 337 fragments from Dorstone Hill represent the biggest assortment of worked rock crystal pieces ever within Britain and Ireland, Overton said; quartz rock crystal pieces are also bought at other Neolithic burial sites in Britain and Ireland, but they’ve mostly been overlooked before.

“I felt it had been really important to indicate precisely how wonderful and how interesting this material is,” Overton said. “Also it will help us consider other areas of [the Neolithic] period, such as for example connections of trade or exchange, as well as the way that folks consider and build relationships materials.”

Originally published on Live Science.

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Tom Metcalfe is really a freelance journalist and regular Live Science contributor who’s located in London in britain. Tom writes mainly about science, space, archaeology, the planet earth and the oceans. He’s got also written for the BBC, NBC News, National Geographic, Scientific American, Air & Space, and many more.

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