Neolithic blade-polishing boulder found in Valley of the Stones

A rare polissoir, a stone used by Neolithic people to sharpen and polish stone axe heads 5,000 years ago, has been discovered in the Valley of Stones National Nature Reserve in Dorset. It is only the second polissoir found undisturbed in situ, known as an “earthfast” stone, in England.

The boulder is a sarsen stone, a form of sandstone best known for its use in Stonehenge and other Neolithic megalithic monuments. Of more than 1,000 sarsen boulders documented in Dorset, only a handful bear the tell-tale evidence of having been used to polish tools.

The presence of the polishing stone was revealed when volunteers cleared the area of vegetation that had grown over the sarsen stones, obscuring them from view. It top surface has a scooped, glossy area created when the edges of the axes were swiped over the spot repeatedly to hone and sharpen them.

Anne Teather and Jim Rylatt, directors of Past Participate CIC a non-profit company that helps people find out more about local heritage, were working in another part of the valley when they decided to stroll over to see how they were getting on.

Rylatt got there first and saw the boulder. “It’s a relatively unprepossessing boulder on one side,” he said. But then he flicked away some leaves and found the shiny, polished area. “It’s safe to say I was surprised. The only other one found in situ in England was found in the 1960s at Fyfield Down [in Wiltshire].” […]

It may be that this was a work area rather than a living one. “There may have been people doing other things here, processing animal skins perhaps, cutting up meat to make dinner.”

Teather said the polissoir was close to an ancient routeway. “You can imagine people coming to the stone to polish axes. This was not necessarily a place of settlement but a place people came to and moved through.”

The area around the stone has now been excavated and analyzed to determine if there is any archaeological material — lithics, organic remains — left by the Neolithic axe makers. The discovery of the polissoir has also spurred Historic England to study the landscape to shed new light on its prehistoric occupation.

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