Very few archaeological sites fail to produce whetstones and hones. Before machines came along all work was done with hand tools. The exceptions were ploughing and tillage. Whether harvesting, felling trees, cutting hay for livestock, making fences etc., etc…… The list goes on. All these vital processes required sharp tools, which since the Bronze Age became a necessity of daily life, whether for producing food or for warfare. Once iron production started in earnest the whetstone became mankind’s most vital tool, along with the quern for food processing. Generally whetstones have not had anything other than passing comment in archaeological reports. At Littledean the quantity of whetstone and hone finds is probably directly related to the long history of metal working on the site and we have whetstones found from Bronze Age to Medieval contexts. Many are from structured deposits where they have been deliberately placed and many are from water deposits. Given the contexts these may be ritual offerings and they are generally but not always broken, to prevent use in the spirit world. Breakage of artefacts in deposits is the one defining element which indicates ritual deposit in Celtic society of the prehistoric period. The collection of whetstones will continue to grow as long as excavations take place at Littledean. In this gallery the descriptions of whetstones where appropriate make comparisons with published work, one of the most useful of which is Irish Iron Age and Early Christian Whetstones by Lil O’Connor https://www.jstor.org/stable/25509004?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
One specialist area for whetstone research is the decorating of hones with patterns. Two from Littledean are challenging and interesting. A large whetstone broken in three pieces has inscribed on its dominant end the faint image of a face partly obliterated by later wear from sharpening. A very worn down piece is shown at the top of this page and has what appears to be the image of a boat. Other images may have been honed away. The design appears to consist of the framework of a currach.
This ORS whetstone was an Iron Age structured deposit in backfilled Bronze Age Stone Hole next to a red ochre etched Celtic Head H.58. It is rectangular/square in cross section
Whetstone 9/9A is an extremely large ORS whetstone block worked on both sides with early traces of dishing and liberally covered with scoring marks. This stone came from Pool 8 sealed below the north wall of the Roman temple nymphaeum. It was 2/3rds buried in a vertical position, large end down in the pool bed and is an excellent example of the tapering pre historic whetstone type. It is one of over 40 whetstones from backfill into a pool with sloping boulders for edging which have score marks and sharpening grooves. Five and possibly six small stone heads also came from the pool. The archaeology is still in progress but the pool may prove to be one of the most significant discoveries yet made for the pre historic evidence of honing tools with water.