Virtual Museum logo

Mesolithic 10000/8500 - 4200 BC

Return to Gallery

Display Contents
Thanet Reach Business Park

Flint blades
Burins and microburins
Saw blade

Scales in centimetre divisions

Thanet Reach Business Park

Mesolithic flints from a pit at Thanet Reach

The following pictures show flints discovered at Thanet Reach Business Park in 1996. Though the flints and the features may be physically unremarkable, it is their age and rarity which gives them a starring role in Thanet’s history.

It is most likely that these features date to the Mesolithic and as such would be the first known examples to be excavated in Thanet.

In all, five related features were discovered. They comprised a pit and four stake-holes. The pit produced all the illustrated finds.

Flint blades

Flint blade from Thanet Reach

The production of flint blades, such as the examples above and below, played an important part in our Mesolithic ancestors’ tool-making survival strategy.

There was no evidence for the use of pottery, which is exactly what one would expect. The Mesolithic period is ‘aceramic’ - existing before the invention of pottery vessels.

Instead our ancestors would have fashioned vessels from wood, leather and other organic materials. Artefacts like these will only survive down to our time in exceptional circumstances. That is usually when they are preserved in waterlogged and anaerobic conditions which inhibit bacterial growth and decay.

Flint blade from Thanet Reach

The four stake-holes which accompanied the pit provided potential evidence of the existence of a simple shelter.

Wooden stakes, driven into the ground, may have formed a frame which could have been woven with smaller branches and roofed with leaves or possibly animal hide.
Reconstruction of a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer's shelter

Reconstruction of a hunter-gatherer's shelter
Copyright Museum of London

Do hunter-gatherers shelter in the woods?

This could have provided a temporary shelter for our flint-knappers, perhaps while on a hunting expedition.

Burins and microburins

Microburins (?) from Thanet Reach
Flint knapping kit

Flint knapping kit

Flake characteristics

Flake characteristics

Adapted from a drawing
by Len Jay

The two flints shown above and below are similar to types known as burins and microburins. Burins are gouging/engraving tools most commonly found  in Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Early Neolithic flint industries. Microburins are waste products distinctive of a Mesolithic flintworking technology.

Microburins are associated with the forming of small Mesolithic blade-tools known as microliths. They comprise the thicker (proximal) end of a much longer blade-flake. It is the proximal end which received the hammer-blow that struck the original flake from the flint core.

This end of a struck flake contains the 'striking platform' and the 'bulb of percussion'. The bulb is a swelling on the inner surface of the flake which results from the impact of the hammer.

The microburin technique normally employs some preparetry work before removing the proximal end of a blade-flake. This involves finely chipping a small notch into one side of the blade which dictates the point of the break. It is the lower portion of the blade that is removed to make a tool.

A burin or microburin from Thanet Reach

The proximal flake pictured above looks like a microburin and has the appearance of a true burin tool.

The burin facet is a narrow cutting edge which can be seen on the right-hand side of the flake. Such a tool could be used for cutting small slots in wood, antler or bone to create tools and handles/hafts. It could also be used also for engraving decoration/artwork.

The potential working edge of this piece is unused, however. As such this flake could be a microburin, created by snapping the blade-flake directly without employing any retouch.

Possible microburin from Thanet Reach

The other example shown above also has the appearance of a microburin, but is not of classical form (and may not be one at all).

The bottom (distal) end of this flake has been snapped directly. However, the shape of the flake suggests that the original piece might not have been much longer in the first place and this breakage may be accidental.

The wildwood
The Thanet Reach area at Westwood today

The Thanet Reach area at Westwood today

As suggested by the name of ‘Westwood’, this area was once covered with trees until fairly recent times.

It may stretch the imagination a bit for those who know the area now, but try and envisage the wildwood environment that met our hunter-gatherer and early farmer ancestors here.

Imagine the view as they sat and made tools like this saw blade below, creating and discarding the microburin in the process.

Saw  blade

Flint saw blade from Thanet Reach

This blade segment has been chipped (retouched) to create a saw-like edge.

Several such pieces could have been set in series together within a handle to create a larger composite tool capable of small wood, antler or bone-working tasks. The working of both sides of this tool suggests that the segment may have been re-worked and re-set within its haft once one side had become worn.

A hunter-gatherer base camp

A hunter-gatherer base-camp
Copyright unknown

In his report on this site, Thanet Trust's former Director Dave Perkins noted that all the potential Mesolithic features were filled with a fine white loess soil which was quite unlike that which filled all the later features.

This type of soil now rarely survives on Thanet, being eroded and recycled through the years. An exposure at Pegwell Bay has been dated to circa 4170 BC (+/- 250 years), based on the carbon-dating of the plants which colonised it (Weir, Catt and Madgett 1971). Dr. Perkins notes that this doesn’t help in actually dating our features themselves, but could indicate a date before which they should have been constructed.



Perkins D.R.J. 1996. Thanet Reach Business Park. Trust for Thanet Archaeology report.

Perkins D.R.J. 1997. Thanet Reach Business Park site, St. Peter's, Broadstairs. Archaeologia Cantiana CXVII, p229.

Weir A.H., Catt J.A. and Madgett P.A. 1971. Periglacial soil formation in the loess at Pegwell Bay, Kent. Geoderma 5.

The text is the responsibility of the author; the photographs are by the author unless otherwise stated.

Paul Hart

Version 1 - Posted 07.04.06
Version 2 - Posted 21.10.06

All content © Trust for Thanet Archaeology