Marja-Leena Rathje
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Ancient Britain: flint







Odd title, I know. One of the very interesting tidbits of knowledge passed on by our tour guide was that the Wiltshire region of England, home of the ancient sites we visited on our tour, is well-known for its use of local stone as building material, including flint because it was readily available here. Apparently brick was more common in other areas like London.

I've heard of flint tools and its use with gunpowder but not as a building material. I have to admit to not even recognizing it when I kept seeing this strange and intriguing almost seashell-like material embedded with mortar and other stones on some garden walls in London, then again quite a lot of it in the town of Salisbury (top two photos) and the cathedral itself. The walls of Old Sarum are mostly flint, though looking more chalky (detail in bottom photo); you may want to look again at some of the photos at the link.

Funny how once made aware of it, I began to notice even more how flintstones were used in decorative ways on the walls of many old houses and small churches as we drove around Wiltshire's villages. I wish we'd been able to photograph some of them, not easy from a moving van.

Here's more interesting information about flint, including this: Brighton's shingle beach is full of flints with fossils within them, much prized by the Victorians. I wish I'd known this when we were there for I might have tried some fossil hunting on the beach.

Posts about our Ancient Britain Tour:

Old Sarum
White Horses
Silbury & West Kennet

Marja-Leena | 07/07/2009 | 19 comments
themes: History, Photoworks, Rocks, Travel


Of course the first trip is to find out what you want to do on the subsequent trips!

Olga, those are wise words from the experienced world traveller!

Wow wow wow. I like those top two. That I see rooms of grey milk in those cloven stones kind of thrills me me. I jump categories: syrup? mist? glass? Nougat filled pouches? Nougat, from nut. They are like nuts too: impossible glass nuts. And then there is what Ono Masuo did with chert, his hold-in-your-hand hills of sky.

Fascinating - I love the patterns and textures.

Bill, love your excitement, though you are making me hungry. :-)

Leslee, they are great, aren't they?!

It's such a pleasure seeing things one takes for granted through the eyes of a discriminating, sophisticated visitor! Yes, flint is weird and wonderful and amazing. And since a lot of the areas where it's commonly used in vernacular building are remote and traditionally poor, that probably makes us notice and remark on it even less.

Amazing! They are so beautiful, oyster-like. I didn't know about any of this concerning flint, even after living in the UK for so long. Thank you for these eye-opening lessons.

Flint's especial quality is its apparent translucence, as if it were the product of a glass meltdown. It certainly gives houses a unique visual appeal. That to me is the good news. The bad news is it's occasionally used to surface subsidiary roads where it aims to outlast and, if possible, wreck any vehicle that passes over it. Also, if you fall on to a piece of embedded flint look out for the tourniquet. Not for nothing was flint adopted by primitive man to fashion both tools and weapons.

Jean, not sure about 'discriminating, sophisticated' but thank you! I love it when I have the opportunity to look closer at smaller, unusual details in the environment I'm in and it's especially exciting to learn something new at the same time. Thanks to our tour guide in this case, and to the internet as well where I keep learning more about what I've seen on this trip.

Natalie, glad you found this interesting. Don't you find that when you are away from your usual familiar surroundings that you notice the unusual or different? Of course you know that I'm always looking out for that kind of thing for my photographic and print work as well. Wish I'd taken more photos.

Barrett, I didn't know about flint's use in roadways but of course it would make sense to use locally available material. Ouch, poor tires and knees and elbows! Did you know that it's used in ceramics as well? The lovely glowing colours I've seen online would be wonderful, I would think.

The ground here is riddled with old arrowheads and other flint tools; but flint as building material is magnificent. Gives me ideas! Thank you so much for pointing your camera in that direction!

Chert has its very dark side, as Barrett Bonden mentions. I've been sobered by toothsome fragments from a nearby quarry which supplied material for hunting points at the time of the ruinous late Pleistocene mega-fauna extinctions. At sometime, even before we were human, it seems, we decided to hold a knife to nature's throat. It's made all the difference.

Rouchswalwe, are you thinking of using the actual tools as building material? Sounds fascinating. If you do try it, do show me, please.

Bill, from my reading about flint, I know chert is another name for it. You use it more readily, is it a more American term? Your thoughts on flint tools for hunting remind me of what I've been reading about Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons. Most likely they would not have survived the climate of northern Europe if they had not found a way to make tools for hunting animals for food. Then again, maybe the Neanderthals would also still be alive if those tools had not been used, possibly, to kill them.

first two look like jewels in settings, one fine, the other, gross. intriguing seen in small views; probably quite different as a whole.

Is 'chert' an American term? I don't know, I don't get out much!

Chert, or flint, does indeed a fateful stone.

Hi Naomi, your jewelry-maker's eye is at work here! I wonder if pieces of the more colourful blue and red flint are ever used for jewelry.

Bill, to answer my own question, I checked a dictionary - the origin of 'chert' is unknown. Wikipedia explains it well: Strictly speaking, the term "flint" is reserved for varieties of chert which occur in chalk and marly limestone formations. That sounds about right for England's chalky shores and soil.

Lovely and interesting! My first thoughts were: barnacles or carbuncles. Such rich texture - thank you for sharing images from your journeys!

Jackie, they really looked unlike anything I'd ever seen before, the coarse contrasting with the seashell smooth. I was pleased to learn what it was. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Am 'seeing' parts of my uk with your fresh eyes. Thankyou.

hhb, glad you are enjoying the revisit here!