International symposium on Neolithic and Bronze Age stone implements 7 – 9 January 1977 (Nottingham)

The 1977 conference was a pivotal point in the study of stone implements. Key papers were given on themes such as:

  • the chronology of stone axes and of perforated implements
  • the distribution of axes from specific sources
  • ethnographic parallels for axe use
  • the experimental use of axes in tree felling.
  • Many of these papers continue to be relevant today.


Friday 7th January

18:15 Registration and sherry reception

19:00 W. F. Grimes The history of Implement Petrology in Britain.

Saturday 8th January

8:00 – 8:30 Breakfast

9:00 – 9:30 I. F. Smith The chronology of British stone implements. abstract

9:40 – 10:10 C. H. Houlder The Langdale and Scafell group of factory sites. abstract

10:20 – 10:50 G. R. Coope The technology of manufacture of selected axe groups. abstract

11:00 Coffee

11:30 – 12:00 C-T. le Roux Stone axes of Brittany. abstract

12:10 – 12:40 C. E. S. Arps & C. C. Bakels Stone implements from Linear pottery sites. abstract

13:00 Lunch

14:30 – 15:00 P. Bush & G de G. Sieveking Geochemistry and the provenance of flint axes. abstract

15:10 – 15:40 A. C. Bishop, R. J Harrison, I. A. Kinnes & A. R. Woolley Petrology and the provenance of jade axes. abstract

16:00 Tea

16:30 – 18:00 Practical session Petrology and the validity of stone implement groups.

19:00 Dinner. Films were shown after dinner.

Sunday 9th January

8:00 – 8:30 Breakfast

9:00 – 9:30 W. A. Cummins Distribution and trade in stone axes in Britain. abstract

9:40 – 10:10 T. G. Manby Typology, materials and distribution of stone implements in Yorkshire. abstract

10:20 – 10:50 C. N. Moore East Midlands axes. abstract

11:00 Coffee

11:20 – 11:50 F. E. S. Roe Typology of stone implements with shaft holes. abstract

12:00 – 12:30 A. P. Phillips Stone axes in ethnographic situations. abstract

12:40 – 13:00 A. Harding, R. Young and R. Miket Reconstruction of methods of hafting and use of stone implements. abstract

13:10: S Piggott Summary – stone axes studies, the past achievements and future prospects. abstract

13:30 Lunch.

Conference ends.


Here the abstracts of oral presentations given at the conference are presented here for historical interest. Their contents have been formalised or superseded by papers published in the proceedings.

Stone Implements from Linear Pottery Sites

C. C. Bakels and C. E. S. Arps

The most frequent stone artefacts so far demonstrated archaeologically in Linear Pottery settlements are flint implements and their equivalents, querns and grindstones, pieces of mineral dye-stuff (e.g. hematite), and adzes. Moreover, stones are found which have not been turned into some kind of implement but were used unaltered. Our investigations have the intention of locating the sources of rock used by the inhabitants of four Linear Pottery settlements (Elsloo, Stein, Sittard, and Hienheim). The former three are situated in the southernmost part of the Netherlands, the latter lies in the Landkreis Kelheim in Bavaria. It appears that most raw materials could be found within a day’s journey around the settlements. This does not apply, however, to the rock material used for making adzes. The greater part of the adzes excavated at the Dutch sites are made from basalt or amphibolite; at Heinheim only amphibolite was met with. The basalts and amphibolites must have been imported from distant regions. Our research has become more and more concentrated on the origins of the adze material. One of the techniques used is the examination of thin setions from the adzes as well as from the natural outcrops. The volcanoes of the Siebengebirge and, to a lesser extent, those of the Eifel, have turned out to be the possible origins of the basalts. The amphibolites found at Alsloo, Stein and Sittard appear to have had a provenance different from those used at Heinheim. Some selected middle-European amphibolite are compared with the adze material. In the meantime adzes from other sites are being brought into the study.

Petrology And The Provenance Of Jade Axes

A. C. Bishop, R. J. Harrison, I. A. Kinnes and A. R. Woolley

The typology of jadeite implements found in Britain has been described and clarified by Campbell Smith. The results will be given of a recent reinvestigation of British and continental European implements so far as these are represented in British private and museum collections. Axes are grouped using a graphical representation of size data, and these groups, although similar to those of Campbell Smith, have certain significant differences. The groups reflect axe sizes and shapes but also correspond to different types of jadeite. There is also a regional correlation of the groups, particularly within the British Isles, which probably matches different sources. The petrology, mineralogy, and chemistry of the axes of the different groups is being investigated not only to justify the groups on compositional as well as typological grounds but also in the belief that some lead may be given as to sources. Preliminary results of these investigations will be presented and discussed. Further, a selection of axes are being isotopically dated by the K-Ar method in the hope of defining the geologically likely areas of provenance within Europe; the first results should be known by the time of the meeting. A full catalogue of British jadeite axe finds will be given, together with descriptions and illustrations of the twenty or so axes which have come to light since the second supplement to Campbell Smith’s Catalogue.

Geochemistry And The Provenance Of Flint Axes

P. R. Bush and G de G. Sieveking

The prehistoric flint mines of the Chalk country of lowland England appear to be larger in scale than the highland axe factories, and many more of the polished axes found in museum collections are made from flint than are made from any other rock type. The techniques developed during thirty years’ successful research in the distribution of stone axes based on the comparative petrological study of the rock types used cannot be applied directly to the petrographically homogeneous material used in the production of axes from the flint mines. However, these studies did point the way to the use of chemical data to characterise flint petrologically and have enabled us to define the distribution of flint axes from a restricted number of known axe factories. Initially, twenty samples were taken from material collected from each of seven major Chalk flint axe factories, five in southern Britain, and two in north-west continental Europe. These samples were analysed using optical spectrography and atomic absorption spectroscopy and the results were studies first graphically and then statistically using a computer. After encouraging results were obtained from the initial work, the number of mines studied were increased to eleven; however, in two cases adjacent mine sites were paired; this gave nine mine areas. To improve analytical accuracy and precision all the samples were analysed for aluminium, iron, magnesium, calcium, sodium, potassium, lithium and phosphorus using atomic absorption spectroscopy. With the exception of calcium these trace elements were present in the range 1 to 2,000 ppm and were normally distributed. Analyses of flint using neutron activation analysis were carried out by G. de Bruin and his co-workers in Delft and Aspinall a Bradford. This technique gave data on many more elements, some of them at the trace element leve. Data from some of the elements proved very valuable and for others less so. For a geochemical classification of the products of flint mines to be viable the following criteria have to be satisfied. The flint must be shown to be a piece-meal replacement of the carbonate host rock retaining the non-carbonate material within the flint. The sediment being replaced must be homogeneous laterally and contain a uniform distribution of non-carbonate material. There must be a vertical or regional variation in non-carbonate content to give variations in trace element chemistry from one mine site to another. The Chalk and its flints satisfy all these criteria over most of its outcrop. Chalk flints are demonstrably replacement products, the fine carbonate sediment contains very low concentrations of finely divided non-carbonate material which is uniformly distributed laterally but variable vertically. Archaeological support for the working of the technique is given by the fact that chemically analysed flint axes from provenances close to Grimes Graves classify with the flint mines. Also, axes with archaeological provenances in sites dated between 3000 and 2700 BC classify with the South Downs and similar mines which are also radiocarbon-dated to the same period and do not classify with Grimes Graves, which is radiocarbon dated between 2500 and 1500 BC.

Petrology And The Technology Of Selected Axe Groups

G. R. Coope

One of the aims of the petrological survey of stone implements has been to locate the factory sites where they were manufactured. Some of these factory sites are already well known but their discovery was largely due to the enormous quantity of waste material that resulted from the adoption of what was essentially a flint technology transfered to a rock of analogous properties. So far no factory sites has yet been discovered where the selected rock type determined that pecking techniques had to be employed in implement manufacture. The reason for this gap in our knowledge is largely because by-products would be small chips and dust – little to catch the eye of the searcher. An effort will be made to describe what by-products might lead to the discovery of some of these unknown factory sites.

Distribution And Trade In Stone Axes In Britain

W. A. Cummins

This study is based on over 3000 stone axes from England and Wales, which have been examined petrologically. The results, some of which are unpublished, are the work of several teams of archaeologists and geologists, over the last thirty years or more. The distribution of these axes (findspots) over the country depends on three factors: i. The original distribution of the neolithic stone axe population, of which they are a small sample; ii. The circumstances leading to their discovery and preservation in modern times; iii. The progress of petrological examination of stone implements from different parts of the country. The last two factors vary from place to place, both regionally and locally, so that material available for study is not a random sample of the population. For this reason, the distribution of individual groups, each emanating from a known axe factory or area, is considered in terms of their relative frequency. This is expressed as a percentage of all the axes studied per unit area, and the results are shown on contoured maps. These maps generally show concentric patterns, in which frequency decreases away from a maximum – most readily interpreted as the centre for dispersal or trade of the stone axes. These centres may, as one might expect, be situated near the axe factory itself; but, in a few cases, they are several hundred kilometres from the factory. This seems to indicate that for certain groups, such as I and VI, dispersal or trade took place in two stages: i. direct from the factory to a distant centre, and ii. radially outwards from the centre. Possible interpretations will be discussed.

Reconstruction Of The Hafting Methods And Function Of Stone Implements

A. Harding, R. Young and R. Miket

The work described stems from a continuing teaching project run by the Department of Archaeology, University of Durham, in which a small area of woodland (initially c. 400m2) is being felled with stone axes, after detailed study of soils, vegetation, pollen rain, etc. The intention is that cereal crops (principally emmer) should be sown and harvested, and the environmental effects studied. Work has not yet progressed very far, but interesting results are emerging. Among these may be mentioned the practical problems of sharpening the axes, of obtaining suitable wood for the hafts, of obtaining and working antler, or fashioning the hafts and of preventing the haft-head from breaking. Various methods of hafting stone axes have long been known, and we are experimenting with some of these. The question of function is more difficult. It seems likely that stone axes were used both as axes and as adzes, and it is by no means impossible that they were also used as hoes, since such implements are not, apparently, otherwise represented. Finally, the question of the purpose of the stone axe trade, and in particular the relative merits of stone versus flint, is a matter on which experimental work can help to shed light.

The Great Langdale And Scafell Pike Group Of Axe Factories

C. H. Houlder

The typology, petrology, and distribution of stone axes are amply covered in the literature and in this Symposium. The major sources of defined rock types deserve study on the ground, to define their extent and to relate them to the environment in terms of their exploitation. The Great Langdale factories, formerly thought of as synonymous with Group VI material, are only part of a widely spread complex of flaking sites along the course of the outcrop of a particular stratigraphical unit of the Borrowdale volcanics. This can be traced westward from Langdale, following the mapping of Harley and Oliver, to the apex of the syncline at Scafell Pike, where axe factory material has long been noted by Plint and others. Support from the Prehistoric Society allowed a close study of the whole area in 1961-2, in particular the factory activity on Scafell Pike summit and the immediately surrounding heights. Subsequent petrological examination reveals no significant difference in the Group VI material from the east and west extremities, though additional rock types are noted as the basis of potential new Group identifications. Finally, the whole area is reviewed, collating the results of diverse investigations, including Clough’s excavations at Thunacar Knott and Pennington’s palaeo-botanical findings. The archaeological implications of the factory group for the surrounding region need to be studied in-depth, particularly with a view to constructing a dynamic view of the neolithic period in terms of seasonal use of different classes of settlement location.

Typology, Materials And Distribution Of Stone Implements In Yorkshire

T. G. Manby

Yorkshire has the largest and most concentrated regional assemblage of neolithic axe finds in the British Isles with over 2500 implements in flint and stone belonging to the major classes of axe and adze blades, chisels, maceheads and battleaxes, and axe-hammers. Axe and adze blades are represented by over 2200 complete and fragmentary examples, and about 75% can be assigned by shape and finish into broad typological groups. Certain blade forms occur in a wide range of materials, while others represent a response to the coarse-grained material employed. Some characteristic forms are the products of recognizable, distant, axe factories like the ‘Cumbrian’ and ‘Bridlington’ axe types, while ‘Seamer’ type axes and ‘Duggleby’ type adzes are highly specialized types made in both flint and stone. The basic shape and proportions of axe blades were subject to modification by breakage, reflaking and regrinding. The most basic form of blade are nodules and pebbles adapted by flaking and / or grinding to form a cutting edge. Locally available raw material consists of flint from the chalk Wolds, and a wide range of coloured flints and igneous and metamorphic rocks occuring as erratics in local glacial deposits. These include rocks from Northumberland, the Lake District, and Scotland as well as Scandinavia. Some 600 stone implements have been petrologically examined and about one third of these have been assigned to Group VI and unclassified tuffs of Lake District origin. The Lake District axe factories were the major source of Yorkshire axe material, exceeding in proportion axes of locally derived flint. Smaller contributions were made by the Cornish, North Wales and Ulster axe factories. Some use was made of sandstones and fossil rich limestones likely to be of regional origin. Axes found on the Yorkshire Wolds account for at least 60% of the Yorkshire total. Ideal collecting conditions existed on the shallow soils of the chalk Wolds with the extension of intensive arable farming following the enclosures of the 1840s. During the 19th century there was economic incentive for farmworkers to collect artefacts to be disposed of through dealers in market towns and to local collectors. A scatter of axe finds comes from lowland areas like the Vales of York and Pickering and Holderness. In these areas axes have been found during drainage operations in localities where more recent alluvial deposits cover the neolithic landscape. Axes are scarce in upland areas like Blackamore and the gritstone Pennines, although soil erosion and forestry ploughing have provided good collecting conditions. The majority of axes have been surface finds; complete blades accompany burials and occur in hoards, finds from occupation sites tend to be fragments or flakes.

East Midlands Axes

C. N. Moore

The intention is to survey the distribution and typology of stone implements in the East Midland Counties (Lincolnshire, Leicestershire including Rutland, Nottinghamshire, and Derbyshire) and in particular to relate the recorded findings of implements to our knowledge of the neolithic and early bronze age periods in this area, and the correlations of the distribution with the recognized geographical regions. The relationship of the distribution and typology of stone axes to flint axes within the area will also be discussed.

Summary – stone axes studies, past achievements and future prospects

S Piggott.

no abstract available

Stone Axes In Ethnographic Situations

P. Phillips

“There are several stone hatchets found in this Kingdom, not unlike those of the Americans” (Edward Lhwyd, 1699). Since the inception of archaeological research, the technology of contemporary simple societies has been a field of interest and study. The purpose of this paper is to indicate a few of the many roles played by stone implements in non-metal-using societies. In an ethnographic context, axes, adzes, and other ground-stone implements may be studied most usefully in the framework of their manufacture and use (“contexts of production and consumption”). This lecture will concentrate on the manufacture and use of ground-stone implements in the Pacific and South-East Asia (particularly New Guinea). In this area ground-stone implements include axes, adzes, pestles, and club heads, and there is valuable information about the sources of raw material. Apart from their straight functional uses, many implements had exchange value between trading partners or were an element of bride-wealth or were credited with ritual powers. Variations occur between neighbouring groups, or over time in one group, in both production and consumption behaviour. Past variations in production behaviour may account for what the archaeologist sees as geographical and temporal variation in stone implement form and finish. Variations in the context of consumption would be harder to recognize in the archaeological record but might be liable to interpretation from the distribution of implements within the settlement or cemetery, or in the inter-regional distributions of particular implements.

Typology Of Stone Implements With Shaft-Holes

F. E. S. Roe

Five types of the implement are under consideration (cupped pebbles are being omitted because of the superabundance of data): i. battle-axes: Brief outline of typology already published – early, middle, and late varieties – and resume of associations and dating. Types of battle-axe illustrated according to petrological groups, especially XVIII, XII, XIV and XV. Not all battle-axes are perfectly made examples. Can differences between battle-axes and axe-hammers be seen among implements of known petrological groups? Distribution of battle-axes made of materials of known provenance. The general distribution of battle-axes. ii. Axe-hammers: First, general distribution, contrasted with that of battle-axes. What can be deduced from this different regional grouping? Secondly, the distribution of axe-hammers made of materials of known provenance, and deductions from this distributional pattern. Typology – only two-man varieties of axe-hammer, and minor variations. Types illustrated by examples made from known petrological groups. iii. Mace-heads: A simplified scheme to show the main types, of which pestle and ovoid mace-heads have been published; cushion, Bush Barrow, and other varieties can be tied in. Brief resume of associations and dating, with new comment on the dating of cushion mace-heads. Petrology – emphasis on Group I greenstone, with a map to show where examples have been found. The general distribution of mace-heads. iv. Shaft hole adzes: Map, contrasting distribution with others already shown. What does this imply? General classification, illustrated by examples from various petrological groups. Dating evidence very poor must be done by links with petrological groups used for battle-axes. v. Pebble-hammers: Main classification. Why they are different from mace-heads. Dating – mesolithic, neolithic, bronze age, or iron age?

Stone Axes Of Brittany And The Marches

C. T. Le Roux

Since the work initiated some 30 years ago by Giot and Cogne and published mainly in the Bull Soc Prehist Francaise in the 1950s, the main petrological groups of Breton stone axes are well known; recently, however, new data have been obtained on this subject: Type A (dolerite): the factory site, discovered at Plussulien in 1964, has been systematically excavated; radiocarbon dates are between 5100 and 3800 bp, the techniques involved have been well recognized, and the diffusion of the products established. Type B (epidiorite): the supposed origin, south of the Montagnes Niores, has been confirmed by the discovery of a rough-out and some flakes near Glomel. Type C (hornblendite): the small outcrop of Pleuven, probably birthplace of these remarkable battle-axes, although intensively prospected, does not yield any trace of axe-making activity. Fibrolite: the main area, north of Brest, has yielded two rough-outs and several quartz and fibrolite hammers, while the cast of a destroyed menhir shows a basin and narrow gullies very similar to those observed at the Plussulien factory. Sodic pyroxenites: nothing new about the possible Armorican origin of some jadeite axes, but the eclogite outcrop near Nantes shows a very special garnet structure, found in a number of eclogite axes from western France; moreover an eclogite axe found in Switzerland appear similar. Among the dozen of small petrological groups now recognized in the Armorican massif, none has been surely correlated with a precise outcrop at the moment. Stone axes are found at every stage of the [Breton] neolithic but each group is not necessarily always present. For instance, the best-known Type A is lacking in the earliest passage graves, a fact which fits well with the highest radiocarbon dates given by the site. On the other hand, the production appears to die in the 3700’s bp, presumably faced by the increasing competition from metal tools. The excavation evidence at Plussulien does not show a clear typological evolution in the production, but quarrying and axe-making techniques are progressively differentiated from those of flint mining and flaking, closely adapting to the characteristics of the rock. The discussion of the data also leads to average estimates for human activity: the production should have been +/- 5 million axes (4000 – 5000 per year, made by +/-10 workers); the supporting group could be of +/-500 persons controlling a 15 – 20km area around the factory. The same discussion suggests a population density of 0.5 – 1 per square kilometre in Neolithic Brittany.

The Chronology Of British Stone Implements

I. F. Smith

Radiocarbon dates indicate that in Britain stone axes were being manufactured, and jadeite axes imported, by at least the last quarter of the 4th-millennium bc. Stone axes remained in demand for some 1500 years until active production ceased during the first quarter of the 2nd millennium. The evidence for the chronology of the exploitation of recognized (i.e. ‘grouped’) rock sources will be considered in detail. Upon the introduction of the technique of drilling cylindrical holes, during the first half of the 2nd millennium, production was switched to shaft-hole implements, some designed to serve as status symbols (mace-heads, battle-axes) and others apparently for utilitarian use (axe-hammers, shaft-hole adzes / perforated axes). Mace-heads appear to have been in use for a short time only in a final neolithic phase: battle-axes (susceptible to seriation) are found in beaker and early bronze age graves; axe-hammers and shaft-hole adzes are datable only by reason of petrological identity, in a limited number of instances, with other kinds of stone artefacts. Sources of raw material include some of those previously exploited for the manufacture of axes as well as a few new ones represented mainly or exclusively by shaft-hole implements. Cessation of demand for battle-axes can be placed soon after the middle of the 2nd-millennium bc.