Prehistoric Society Research Paper 3 - Out of print

Materialitas: Working Stone, Carving Identity

December 2009
Edited by Blaze O’Connor, Gabriel Cooney and John Chapman
Prehistoric Society Research Paper 3 cover, showing a rocky outcrop in a dry landscape.


Stone monuments and objects represent material that is both highly accessible to archaeologists today, and formed a focus for engagement, transformation and re-use in the past, because of its paradoxically enduring yet malleable quality. This enduring character means that stone is inextricably linked to notions of monumentality and remembrance and formed an active medium in the creation of identities and memory life in a range of social contexts and practices.

It can be argued that the material presence and physical character of stone objects and monuments are not only actively harnessed in these encounters, but are also the very stuff from which social relations are derived, perceived and thought through. As well as highly visible statements in the form of finished objects and monuments, stone was encountered in the embodied, performative and incorporated practices of daily activities and remembrance traditions.

We have recently, and increasingly, seen exciting evidence for the active use and re-use of quarrying and carving locations, natural, worked and carved stone surfaces and quarried and fragmented stone objects and blocks. This area is therefore a rich arena within which to develop our narratives and interpretations, and one that recognises the agency and effect of material forms in the creation of social relationships. Rather than thinking of stone simply as a blank and passive slate onto which meanings were inscribed, we can explore its power and effect in terms of the ways meanings emerged out of people’s engagement and encounters with its physical properties. This volume brings together authors working on the materiality (materialitas) of stone via different forms of stone objects, rock art, monuments and quarrying activity


Introduction: Materialitas and the Significance of Stone
Blaze O’Connor and Gabriel Cooney


  1. Dead Stone and Living Rock
    Richard Bradley
  2. Stones with Character: Animism, Agency and Megalithic Monuments
    Chris Scarre
  3. Preserved in Stone: Material and Ideology in the Neolithic
    Muiris O'Sullivan
  4. The World of the Grey Wethers
    Joshua Pollard and Mark Gillings
  5. Megalithic Technology: A New Approach to the Earliest Stone Architecture of the West of France. Issues, Methodology and Results
    Emmanuel Mens and Jean-Marc Large
  6. Building the Great Stone Circles of Northern Britain: Questions of Materiality, Identity and Social Practices
    Colin Richards
  7. Mundane Stone and its Meaning in the Neolithic
    Gabriel Cooney
  8. Carneddau: Stone
    Aaron Watson


  1. Help, I’m a Rock! The Materiality of Stone in the Mesolithic of Britain and Ireland
    Graeme Warren
  2. Black is the Colour ... Chert, Concave Scrapers and Passage Tombs
    Stefan Bergh
  3. Neolithic Fibrolite Working in the West of France
    Yvan Pailler
  4. The Ideological Significance of Flint for Neolithic and Bronze Age Communities in the Rhine/Meuse Delta of the Netherlands
    Annelou Van Gijn
  5. Speaking of Stone, Speaking through Stone: An Exegesis of an Engraved Slate Plaque from Late Neolithic Iberia
    Katina Lillios and Jonathan Thomas
  6. Re-collected Objects: Carved, Worked and Unworked Stone in Bronze Age Funerary Monuments
    Blaze O'Connor
  7. Breaking Down and Cracking Up: Rock Art and the Materiality of Stone in Kilmartin, Argyll, Scotland
    Andrew Jones
  8. Signs on a Rock Veil: Work on Rocks, ‘Prehistoric Art’ and Identity in North-West Iberia
    Lara Bacelar Alves

Chris Gosden