Posts in Category: Prehistoric

July - Cut Above 

Monday, July 31, 2017 4:38:00 PM Categories: Flint Neolithic Prehistoric Tool

July’s Find of the Month is a rather large and magnificent example of a Neolithic polished flint axehead.  It weighs in at a hefty 1.6Kg and is 256mm long.

Polished axes were produced by taking a flaked axehead and rubbing it against sandstone to remove the flake scars. Water was used to cool the axe during this process, and sand was sometimes added to make it quicker. A functional flaked axe can be made (by an experienced knapper) in about 20 minutes, however it can take up to 40 hours to completely polish a large axe (Butler 2005: 141-2).


Photograph of Neolithic polished flint axe

The blade end of an axe was polished to improve its strength. The protruding angles and holes created by the flaking process can easily catch on wood while chopping, which can cause the axe to break. Polishing the axe removes the points where this impact could cause problems and also reduces friction, allowing a smoother chopping motion. Polishing the butt of the axe can actually make it less efficient, as the smoother surface would allow it to slip out of the handle more easily. It is thought that polishing areas other than the blade was mainly done for aesthetic reasons.

Although this example has not been entirely ground and polished to remove all the flake scars its aesthetic appeal is enhanced by a beautiful orange and off-white mottled patination. There is a very small amount of damage to either end, but the cutting edge is still sharp after circa 5000 years in the ground. The axe was found in Forncett in South Norfolk and was generously donated to Norwich Castle Museum by the finder.

Full details of the axehead can be found at www.finds.org.uk using the search reference NMS-6A485E

November - Shaping Up 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015 10:04:00 AM Categories: Accessories Bronze Age Copper Craft Metal Metal working Prehistoric Religion Tool

November's Find of the Month is this fantastic Middle – Late Bronze Age anvil.

Bronze Age anvils are very unusual finds, probably because the metalworkers who used them were easily able to melt down broken ones to create new objects.

Photograph of Bronze Age anvil

Almost every surface of this example would have been used to work bronze or gold, with either of the two ‘beaks’ being used to secure the anvil to a wooden block so the other could be used to shape the metal. Each working surface has a different form allowing a wide variety of shapes to be created using just this one anvil.

At the time this anvil was in use, the number and type of personal ornaments made and worn by Bronze Age people increased, and this anvil would have been used to make some of them. The metalworker who used it would have been highly skilled and was probably seen as powerful, important or even as having a religious role in society. We suspect this because the way Bronze Age tools were treated shows they had a meaning or significance beyond their use as tools, suggesting the people who made them had a role which extended beyond their skills as craftspeople. 

Find a full description of the anvil here.

September - Caught knapping 

Tuesday, September 01, 2015 9:18:00 AM Categories: Flint Palaeolithic Prehistoric Tool

We go a long way back into the depths of time this month to the Old Stone Age in the so-called Palaeolithic period. This period spans the time from around 800,000-10,000 BC. The find for this month is an early or lower Palaeolithic ovate Hand Axe that unusually was found on the surface of a ploughed field near Wymondham.

The axe was made in antiquity by roughing-out the shape from a flint nodule with a hard hammer stone such as quartzite. This initial stage would then be followed by carefully working the edges of the flint from both faces with a soft hammer such as antler or a softer variety of stone like sandstone. The purpose of the finished tool would be have been primarily for the butchery of meat.


Photograph of hand axe


Photographic image of the Palaeolithic flint Hand Axe

Illustration of hand axe

A hand-drawn illustration of the same Hand Axe

In archaeological recording it is common to hand-draw flint tools. The two graphics above illustrate why this is the case. The top photographic image gives a good idea of shape and surface colouration, but because of lighting constraints and limitations regarding depth of focus, it does little to help researchers understand how the flint was made. However, the illustration (the lower image) drawn by our Historic Environment Services illustrator Jason Gibbons, not only reproduces complete accuracy, but allows the flint to be studied in detail under a whole range of lighting conditions. This photographically-unseen information can then be interpreted and faithfully recorded on the drawing. The so-called ripples that are often featured on the surface of a struck flake are like ripples on the surface of a pond, in that they lead back concentrically to their origin. On the drawing therefore the ripples shown on each struck facet lead back to a point of striking, revealing much more than a simple photograph could ever do about how the axe was made.

The expert drawing gives fitting testament to the fantastic skill of the prehistoric craftsman who carefully fashioned the tool, and evidences his intimate understanding of the material he was using and the techniques required to manipulate it circa 400,000 years ago.
The full record of this Palaeolithic Hand Axe can be viewed on the Portable Antiquities database website on www.finds.org.uk and is record reference NMS-C94303.
 

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