Early Neolithic Stone Axes

Stainton Quarry, Furness, Cumbria




Greg Speed

Ann Clarke (External Specialist)

During excavations by NAA at Stainton Quarry near Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria in 2015, two broken polished stone axes were found in sinkholes (solution hollows) within a gryke or fissure in the natural limestone bedrock. They were associated with Early Neolithic Carinated Ware pottery and small quantities of burnt bone. One of the axes was made from grey-green Langdale tuff from the Lake District, while the other is of a blue/grey volcaniclastic rock probably related to tuff although of a coarser texture. A flake of Langdale tuff of very similar material to the first axe was found nearby in the fill of a tree throw along with early Neolithic and Beaker pottery, charcoal and flints.

Both of the larger fragments were the blade ends of axes which had been flaked, ground, and polished all over to produce a sharp, curved cutting edge. Too little of either axe survived to indicate their original overall shape. The blade of the second axe may have been carefully reshaped, indicated by evidence of pecking, regrinding and a slightly asymmetrical curve.   

Both of the axes had been deliberately broken by a blow to the centre of one face. On the first axe, the broken edge had then been used as a platform from which to detach several large flakes, removing most of one of the polished faces.

The broad flake of Langdale tuff from the tree throw does not retain any polished surface to show that it comes from a polished axe, although given the material this seems likely.

Langdale tuff axes have been found in large numbers throughout Britain, but most have been discovered as surface finds and they are only occasionally encountered in a dateable context associated with their original use and modification. Deliberate breakage of these objects has been documented elsewhere, although the meaning of this behaviour remains a matter of academic debate. Interestingly, the deposition of the finds at Stainton may have been unintentional. The deposits that they were recovered from had probably slumped into the solution features, from an above ground midden via natural processes.   

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