Scientists fascinated by “extremely exciting and rare” prehistoric stone: found by accident


At first glance, the find looked like nothing more than an uneven boulder lying among many others at the bottom of the valley, writes The Guardian. But a smooth, shiny depression in the stone indicated that it was something very special—a vanishingly rare “polisuar,” or polishing stone, used 5,000 years ago by Neolithic people to sharpen axes and other tools.

Discovered in the Vale of Stones National Nature Reserve in Dorset, it is only the second polysoir to be found “firmly rooted in its original position” in England.

The Polissoir was found by accident when volunteers were clearing the bush to reveal sarsen stones that had been hidden by vegetation for decades.

Anne Teezer and Jim Rilatt, directors of Past Participate CIC, a nonprofit that helps people learn about local heritage, were working across the valley when they decided to take a walk and see how they were doing.

Raillatt got there first and saw the stone. “On the one hand, it’s a relatively nondescript boulder,” he said. But then he brushed off a few leaves and found a shiny, polished area. “It’s safe to say that I was surprised. The only other specimen found in England was found in the 1960s at Fifield Down in Wiltshire.”

Rilatt said he enjoys thinking about the work that was done there in prehistoric times: “They must have spent many hundreds, thousands of hours polishing here.”

Perhaps it was a work area, not a residential area. “Perhaps there were people who were doing other things, perhaps processing animal skins, cutting up meat for cooking dinner.”

Ann Teaser says that the polissuar was located near the ancient tract. “You can imagine how people came to this stone to polish their axes. It was not necessarily a place of settlement, but a place where people came and moved through.”

She joked that if anyone found a polissoire, she would buy him a bottle of whiskey. “I’m saying Jim hit the mark because he has longer legs than me.” Ann bought him a Scotch single malt to celebrate the discovery.

Stone axes were used by early Neolithic farmers to clear woodlands and build houses and monuments. The axes were made from a variety of raw materials such as flint, volcanic tuff and granite, notes The Guardian.

There is evidence that many stone axes moved widely in prehistoric times, possibly traded in exchange systems or brought by their owners from distant sources where the stone was mined.

After the discovery of the polissuar, the area around the stone was subjected to excavations and special analysis to find out if any traces of stone ax makers were preserved.

Sasha Chapman, an ancient monuments inspector at Historic England, says: “This is an extremely exciting and rare discovery in this little-studied historical landscape that gives us the opportunity to study the use of stone and the communities that used it.”

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