LANCUM-3F7550: Early Iron Age socketed axe

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SOCKETED AXEHEAD

Unique ID: LANCUM-3F7550

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

Cast copper alloy socketed axe dating from the Early Iron Age that is c. 800-600BC.

Cast copper-alloy looped socketed axe with long wedge-shaped body, somewhat splayed blade and back-to-front mouth moulding. The axe is complete and in good condition. It has a very smooth dark brown patina on both sides with some pitting in the upper and middle part of the body as well as larger patches of corrosion and some active bronze disease. The surface is smooth to the touch and the axe shows definite signs of wear: the casting seams were removed from the sides, blade and mouth and the blade was sharpened. Striations from sharpening and re-sharpening are clearly visible running parallel to the blade. The act of shaping and sharpening of the blade probably removed the above-mentioned surface pitting which is still clearly visible in the middle and upper part of the body. The axe has a thick mouth moulding and the socket is 'back-to-front' which means it is rectangular in shape, but not aligned with the blade. Below the thick mouth moulding are two clear decorative mouldings. Both faces are decorated with a clear rib-and-circlet pattern: Two hanging triangles (on the outside) with a single rib in the centre between them, with the rib and the tips of the triangles terminating in three pellets-in-circles.

Treasure Report:

Description: A hoard of three copper-alloy socketed axes and a piece of casting residue (overspill) dating from the Earliest Iron Age that is c. 800-600BC. PAS Database Numbers: LANCUM-3F84C4; LANCUM-3F83A0; LANCUM-3F7550 and LANCUM-335E04.

Catalogue

Socketed axe (1)

Measurements: Length: 135mm; Width (blade): 66.5mm; Socket (inner-outer): 29-37.5mm; Socket (back-front, inner-outer): 30-41.5mm; Weight: 333g.

Description: Cast copper-alloy looped socketed axe with long wedge-shaped body, somewhat splayed blade and back-to-front mouth moulding. The axe is complete and in good condition. It has a very smooth dark brown patina on both sides with some pitting in the upper and middle part of the body as well as larger patches of corrosion and some active bronze disease. The surface is smooth to the touch and the axe shows definite signs of wear: the casting seams were removed from the sides, blade and mouth and the blade was sharpened. Striations from sharpening and re-sharpening are clearly visible running parallel to the blade. The act of shaping and sharpening of the blade probably removed the above-mentioned surface pitting which is still clearly visible in the middle and upper part of the body. The axe has a thick mouth moulding and the socket is 'back-to-front' which means it is rectangular in shape, but not aligned with the blade. Below the thick mouth moulding are two clear decorative mouldings. Both faces are decorated with a clear rib-and-circlet pattern: Two hanging triangles (on the outside) with a single rib in the centre between them, with the rib and the tips of the triangles terminating in three pellets-in-circles.

Socketed axe (2)

Measurements: Length: 133mm; Width (blade): 62mm; Socket (inner-outer): 29-37mm; Socket (back-front, inner-outer): 32-45.5mm; Weight: 378g

Description: Heavy cast copper- (and/or high-tin-) alloy looped socketed axe with long wedge-shaped body, somewhat splayed blade and back-to-front mouth moulding. The axe is complete and in reasonable condition. It has a very rough surface on both sides with a dull silvery-grey patina shining through patches of corrosion and active bronze disease. The surfaces of the sides are especially rough and it seems that here, some of the original silvery surface has been replaced by corrosion and bronze disease. The axe shows no signs of wear at all; it is in as-cast condition. The casting seams are not very pronounced (except for around the mouth where they are very pronounced), but they are still intact. The blade has not been hammered, shaped or sharpened and it is still c. 5-6mm thick with the casting seam running along the centre. The axe has a thick mouth moulding and the socket is 'back-to-front' which means it is rectangular in shape, but not aligned with the blade. Below the thick mouth moulding may have possibly been another, shallower moulding, but this has been nearly obliterated by the surface corrosion. Both faces are decorated with the same rib-and-circlet pattern that is display by axe no. 1: Two hanging triangles (on the outside) with a single rib in the centre between them, with the rib and the tips of the triangles terminating in three pellets-in-circles.

Socketed axe (3)

Measurements: Length: 84.9mm; Width (blade): 61,9mm; Socket (inner-outer): 23-34mm; Socket (back-front, inner-outer): 24-32mm; Weight: 202g

Description: Cast copper-alloy looped socketed axe with short, stocky body and widely splayed blade with curled up corners. The axe is complete and in poor condition. It has an extremely rough surface and it seems that none of the original surface survives. Only in the upper part of the axe, in a few very small spot, the original patina still shines through. It may possibly be of dark brown/golden colour. However, the major part of the axe's surface shows active bronze disease and corrosion. The axe has a sub-rectangular (back-to-front) or square mouth with a thicker (and slightly miscast) upper mouth moulding and a thinner moulding underneath. The loop is semi-circular in shape. The axe appears to be undecorated.

Casting waste (4)

Measurements: Length: 59mm; Width: 32.1mm; Thickness: 28.9mm; Weight: 44g

Description: Large piece of casting residue, possibly overflow from a mould. Only one part seems to include a recognisable shape: a semicircle which would have been created by the metal coming through the gaps of the mould near the valve.

Discussion

The Ulverston hoard consists of three socketed axes (two decorated, one plain) and a small piece of casting waste. Two of the objects were found in close association (axes no. 2 and 3), whilst the two other objects come from the same field, but a little bit further away (axe no. 1 and casting waste no. 4). However, there is no doubt that the axes were deposited together and there is a very strong probability that the piece of casting waste was also part of the same deposition.

The three new axes from Ulverston are all of Type Sompting and these axes (unassociated (single finds) and associated finds (hoards)) are conventionally dated to the British Earliest Iron Age (c. 800-600BC). They are part of the Llyn Fawr metalwork assemblage, named after the hoard of cast copper-alloy and wrought iron object from a small mountain lake near Rhigos, Vale of Glamorgan (Crawford and Wheeler 1921; Fox 1939; Fox and Hyde 1939). The hoard from Llyn Fawr did not contain elaborately decorated axes (only rib-and-pellet decorated axes) but there are a few examples of Early Iron Age axe hoards containing more elaborately decorated axes from the Thames Valley (Kingston-on-Thames), Sussex (Eastbourne, Sompting and Ferring), Scotland (Tillicoultry) and, most importantly, from Cumbria (Skelmore Heads, nr Ulverston) (Evans 1881; Budgen 1934; Curwen 1948; Curwen 1954, Grinsell 1931, Huth 1997; O'Connor 2007)

The Early Iron Age group of decorated copper-alloy socketed axes were initially discussed by Colin Burgess in 1971. The examples of socketed axes discussed in his paper include three single finds from Yorkshire (Seamer Carr, Cayton Carr and Broughton, near Malton) and the fifteen heavier axes from the Sompting hoard, East Sussex, thus excluding the two linear-facetted axes that were also part of the hoard (Curwen 1948, plate XX, 5+6). Following Burgess' definition, Sompting axes have fairly straight sides and a moderately expanded blade. Their profile is heavy and pronounced and the loops tend to be of moderate size with some having a distinctive spurred base. The sockets are usually of sub-rectangular or 'back-to-front' shape rather than aligned with the blade (Burgess 1971, 268), a typological characteristic that we can also find on the axes from Ulverston. Sub-rectangular sockets are more common in the Early Iron Age while rectangular sockets, aligned with the blade, can be found on the large majority of Late Bronze Age socketed axes. Furthermore, Burgess suggested that one of the main characteristics of Sompting axes is their elaborate decoration, but even he admitted that there does not seem to be a clear-cut definition of the various decorative styles and sub-styles (Burgess 1971, 267).

The wealth of patterns, both simple and more and less elaborate, is striking indeed and cannot be matched on axes of the Ewart Park metalwork assemblage of the preceding Late Bronze Age (c. 900-800BC). Apart from plain and simple ribbed axes (with three, four or five ribs), there are rib-and-pellet decorated axes (one, two, three or more ribs), rib-and-circlet, triple-rib-and-circlet, rib-and-circlets connected with ribs forming M's and Ω's, empty boxes, or boxes with a central X, etc. Most of the patterns are unique, making it difficult to group them with others.

The hoard from Ulverston contains three axes and only one (the smallest and most reshaped/used one) seems to be undecorated. However, undecorated axes of Type Sompting are known from single finds (e.g. R. Thames at Kew, London (British Museum: WG1744)) and also from one larger hoard (Tower Hill, Oxon. (Coombs 2003)). This means that even though Sompting axes are usually high decorated, plain examples are known and can be identified according to their weight, size and shape of mouth and blade.

The two other axes from Ulverston (axes nos. 1 and 2) are decorated on each face with a central rib terminating in a pellet-in-circlet with a hanging triangle to the left and right. The points of the triangles are also terminating in a pellet-in-circlet. This decoration is not unique. It can be found on one other socketed axe only. This axe was found in 1902 with five other socketed axes of the same type but different decoration in a lime stone fissure near Skelmore Heads, Great Urswick, Ulverston, Cumbria (Cowper 1905; Collingwood 1926). The hoard from Skelmore Heads is lost, unfortunately, and only two axes survive in museum collections today: one in the Dock Museum, Barrow-in-Furness, and the other is in Lancaster City Museum's H.S. Swanson-Cowper collection, currently on display at the Ruskin Museum, Coniston.

It is very noteworthy that the axe from Skelmore Heads which is currently at the Dock Museum has exactly the same dimensions as axe no. 1 and is only slightly smaller than axe no. 2. The decoration on all three axes is exactly the same and after comparing casting flaws and the slight curvature of the ribs and the sides of the triangles it is suggested here that the three axes were made in the same mould or cast using the same mould template. Local casting of Early Iron Age decorated socketed axes is supported by the discovery of the small piece of casting waste. However, this connection must remain tentative for the time being because only a metallurgical analysis will prove if the alloy of the casting waste can be dated to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age. It can be argued, however, that different copper-alloys were used. When comparing the surfaces and details of decoration of the three axes, one of the three new axes from near Ulverston stands out: it has a rough surface and silvery patina and is also slightly heavier and chunkier than the other two. It has neither been finished or nor used for wood-work. It is thus possible that this axe was not meant for use as a wood-working tool but a tool for display, ritual or ritual deposition only. It is the first find of one of these silvery-looking axes (that is a copper-alloy with a tin content of c. 20%) in the North West. Similar (albeit much smaller and lighter) socketed axes with a silvery surface and a high tin-content were found in hoards from Dorset (Langton Matravers: 2007T640), Wiltshire (Hindon: 2012T46) and Norfolk (East Rudham: found pre-2002 amendment and returned to finder).

With its rare high-tin socketed axe and its undeniably extremely close connection (both typologically and geographically) to the existing hoard from Skelmore Heads (Ulverston, Cumbria) this new hoard from the Ulverston area greatly adds to our knowledge of Cumbria's prehistory.

Conclusion

Thus, in light of these parallels and the hoard's strong connection to the already existing hoard from Skelmore Heads, Ulverston, the new Ulverston hoard qualifies as Treasure under the Amendment to the Treasure Act of 1996 (Category 2) which stipulates that any group of two or more metallic objects of any composition of any prehistoric date that come from the same find and found after 1 January 2003, qualify as Treasure under the Treasure Act.

Dot Boughton MPhil MSt; FLO (Lancashire and Cumbria)

Bibliography:

British Museum Bronze Age Guide 1920. A guide to the Antiquities of the Bronze Age. London.

Budgen, W. 1920. 'Bronze Celts found at Eastbourne'. Sussex Archaeological Collections 61, 143f.

Burgess, C. 1971. 'Some decorated socketed axes in Canon Greenwell's Collection'. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 42, 267-272.

Coombs, D. et al. 2003. 'Tower Hill Axe Hoard'. In: Miles, D. et al. 2003. Uffington White Horse and its landscape. Oxford Archaeological Unit, 203-225.

Collingwood, W.G. 1926. 'An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Westmorland and Lancashire North-of-the-Sands'. Trans. Cumberland and Westmorland Ant. and Arch. Soc. XXVI, 1-58.

Cowper, H.S. 1905. 'Some Miscellaneous Finds'. Trans. Cumberland and Westmorland Ant. and Arch. Soc. V, 182-188.

Crawford, O.G.S. and Wheeler, R.E.M. 1921. 'The Llyn Fawr and other Hoards of the Bronze Age'. Archaeologia 71, 133-140

Curwen, E. C. 1948 'A Bronze Cauldron from Sompting, Sussex'. Antiquaries Journal 28, 157-163.

Curwen, E.C. 1954. The Archaeology of Sussex. London (2nd revised edition).

Evans, J. 1881. The Ancient Bronze Implements and Ornaments of Great Britain and Ireland. London.

Fox, C. 1939b. 'A Second Cauldron and an Iron Sword from the Llyn Fawr Hoard, Rhigos, Glamorganshire'. Ant. Journal XIX, 369ff.

Fox, C. and Hyde, H.A. 1939. 'A Second Cauldron and an Iron Sword from the Llyn Fawr Hoard, Rhigos, Glamorganshire'. Ant. Journal XIX, 369-404.

Grinsell, L. V. 1931. 'Sussex in the Bronze Age', Sussex Archaeological Collections LXXI, 30-69.

Huth, C. 1997. Westeuropäische Horte der Spätbronzezeit. Regensburg.

O'Connor, B. 2007b. 'Two Late Bronze Age socketed axes from Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire, and similar lost axes from northern Britain'. Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal 13,

Savory, H.N. 1976. Guide Catalogue of the Early Iron Age Collection (National Museum of Wales). Cardiff.

Savory, H.N. 1980. Guide Catalogue of the Bronze Age Collection (National Museum of Wales). Cardiff.

Schmidt, P.K. and Burgess, C. 1981. The axes of Scotland and Northern England. München.

Stead, I.M. 2006. British Iron Age Swords and Scabbards. London: British Museum.

Trustees of the British Museum 1953. Later Prehistoric Antiquities of the British Isles. London.

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Donated to museum by all parties, hence disclaimed as Treasure

Treasure details

Treasure case tracking number: 2012T491

Chronology

Broad period: IRON AGE
Subperiod from: Early
Period from: IRON AGE
Subperiod to: Early
Period to: IRON AGE
Date from: Circa 800 BC
Date to: Circa 600 BC

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 133 mm
Width: 62 mm
Weight: 378 g

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Sunday 13th November 2011

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Dr Dot Boughton
Identified by: Dr Dot Boughton

Other reference numbers

Treasure case number: 2012T491

Materials and construction

Primary material: Copper alloy
Manufacture method: Cast
Completeness: Complete

Spatial metadata

Region: North West (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Cumbria (County)
District: South Lakeland (District)
To be known as: Ulverston

Spatial coordinates


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

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Metal detector
General landuse: Cultivated land
Specific landuse: Character undetermined

References cited

No references cited so far.

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: LANCUM
Created: 5 years ago
Updated: 3 years ago

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