HESH-191F76: Late Neolithic - Early Bronze Age: Battle Axe Perforated Axe Hammer

Rights Holder: Birmingham Museums Trust
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Rights Holder: Birmingham Museums Trust
CC License:

Rights Holder: Birmingham Museums Trust
CC License:

Rights Holder: Birmingham Museums Trust
CC License:

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Unique ID: HESH-191F76

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

Stone perforated axe-hammer of probable very late Neolithic or early Bronze Age date (2500-1800 BC). Axe-hammers are also known as Battle Axes and some of the smaller examples have been recorded as perforated maces (mace-heads). The differences between these types / classifications are uncertain and the artefact type as a whole is in need of reassessment in line with modern discoveries and approaches to artefact studies.

The axe-hammer is formed from a pecked and ground igneous rock. This rock has been identified from observation of the surface by Daniel Lockett (Shropshire Museum Service) and Liz Etheridge (Shropshire Wildlife Trust) as being a picrite. However, without thin section analysis a definitive identification cannot be reached.

In plan the axe-hammer is broadly sub-triangular, with sides which expand from a relatively narrow butt to their widest point which is in line with the centre of the perforated hole. From this widest point the axe-hammer then tapers to an angular blunted point. In profile the axe-hammer is broadly sub-rectangular, the butt and the axe blade have relatively similar thicknesses. However, the upper and lower edges of the axe-hammer taper and expand along their length to form concave sides. This means that the upper and lower faces of the axe hammer are dished; in both cases the deepest point of the dished surface is closest to the perforation.

The perforation is positioned at a point approximately 1/3 of the way along the length of the axe, approximately 66mm from the blunt butt end and 108mm from the cutting edge. The perforation itself has a slight hour glass profile. This is a result of how it was made, being drilled from each side. The perforation has a diameter of 45.1mm at the widest point.

The blade of the axe-hammer is on the same alignment (vertical) as the perforation. It is broadly convex in profile but much of the original surface has been lost through abrasion. The butt of the axe-hammer (or hammer end) is broadly sub-rectangular (rectangular with rounded corners), it measures 67.7mm in length and 79.6mm in width. This end is much better preserved than the bladed end and small areas of pecked surface are visible. There is no obvious old damage from use. The axe-hammer measures 217mm length, 107.9mm width, is 74.6mm thick and weighs 2484g.

The axe-hammer is a mid brown orange colour with a relatively well formed surface. This surface has been abraded and several surfaces have been lost, probably as a result of movement in the ploughsoil. This abrasion has resulted in a number of different affects; these include loss of original surface, linear scars, and rounding of profile. Where the original surface has been lost a mid grey brown surface can be seen, these are the areas which have enabled the geologists to identify the rock type. The best preserved areas are around the perforation where the axe is dished. It is here that the peck marks can be observed best. They are small (under 2mm) in diameter and slightly dished in profile.

A broad typology of stone implements with shaftholes was produced by F.E.S. Roe in 1979. In this paper Roe distinguished between battle axes, axe-hammers, mace heads, shafthole adzes, and pebble hammers. Whilst it is easy to differentiate between the elaborate battle axes and the axe hammers, the larger (earlier) forms of battle axe seem to be typological identical to the axe-hammers illustrated. It is likely that the application of the typological criteria advanced by Roe needs some refinement and there may be a large degree of overlap between the relatively early (?) battle axe and the axe hammer types. With these issues in mind this axe-hammer example seems to fit best into Roe's axe-hammer class II which is typified by concave sides (ibid:30). This type is relatively rare within the typology, but is the most commonly associated with the rock source XII.

Roe further splits class II into two parts, (a) those with the greatest depth (thickness) at the butt, and (b) those with the greatest depth at the blade. The blade of this example has been damaged, but the butt and blade seem to be of similar thickness and so the distinction cannot be made. The closest parallels illustrated by Roe can be seen in fig 8, either Sh 17/ah (Little Ryton, Salop) or Sh 53/ah (Hardwick, Salop) both classified as Class IIb.

The function of this artefact is also not fully understood. The larger examples are thought to be either for mining or agriculture. It is thought that some of the largest examples were used as a form of plough or for breaking ground. Many of the examples known are stray finds without an archaeological context. Several are known to come from burial mounds, but whether they were associated with the grave or the mound is unclear (Savory 1980, 36-37). The artefact type is usually dated to the very final phases of the Neolithic or the early part of the Bronze Age, specifically to the Beaker phases (EBA 1 and II).

Axe-hammers formed from picrite are the most common type discovered in Shropshire and the Marches area (Roe, 1979). This is due to the procurement site (formerly known as an axe factory) at Corndon Hill, Shropshire (rock source XII). Cordon Hill is situated on the Shropshire / Powys (Montgomeryshire) border. Examples of these types of axe-hammer can be seen in museums in both Wales (cf Savory: pages 161-164) and the Marches (Shrewsbury, Shropshire and Herefordshire). The distribution patterns shown by Roe show the largest concentration of group XII axes in the West Midlands, Marches and Wales, with some outliers East Midlands and Wessex. The findspot of this axe-hammer is very close to a source of similar igneous rock - Dolerite, located on Clee Hill, Shropshire. It has been suggested that this rock type may have been suitable for making this form of axe-hammer. However evidence for the production of axes of this rock type have not been discovered. It is only through further research and the use of thin sectioning to identify rock types that a true picture of this artefact may be understood.

A number of axe-hammers and battle axes have been recorded by the PAS see the following records for more information: CPAT-6FCE17, WMID-D23F03, NLM-E3A5B7, CPAT-B571D6, CAM-559728, NMGW-3FF0B8, NLM-9A7147, KENT-460390, LIN-A579D5, IOW-5E6DB8, and LVPL-2B5027

Thanks are extended to Daniel Lockett and Liz Etheridge for the identification of the rock type.

Find of note status

This has been noted as an interesting find by the recorder.

Class: Perforated
Sub class: Battle Axe

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder


Broad period: NEOLITHIC
Subperiod from: Late
Period from: NEOLITHIC
Subperiod to: Early
Period to: BRONZE AGE
Date from: 2500 BC
Date to: 1800 BC

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 207 mm
Width: 107.9 mm
Thickness: 74.6 mm
Weight: 2484 g

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Mr Peter Reavill
Identified by: Mr Peter Reavill

Materials and construction

Primary material: Stone
Manufacture method: Ground/polished
Completeness: Complete

Spatial metadata

Region: West Midlands (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Shropshire (Unitary Authority)
District: Shropshire (Unitary Authority)
To be known as: Cleobury Mortimer

Spatial coordinates

Grid reference source: From finder
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 10 metre square.

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Fieldwalking
General landuse: Cultivated land

References cited

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: HESH
Created: 12 years ago
Updated: 2 years ago

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