Our Favourite Archaeology in Suffolk – Neolithic polished axehead

Photograph of the front, sides, top and back of the axehead

We continue with our blog series showcasing some of our favourite archaeology in Suffolk. Each week you’ll meet a member of the team who will share with you their favourite archaeological site to visit or favourite find. This week, Phils shares his favourite find.

Phil is a Finds Recording Officer and has been part of the Suffolk Finds Recording Team for the past 8 months after completing a PhD in Archaeology. Day-to-day, Phil identifies and records finds discovered by members of the public, administers Treasure cases and liaises with metal detecting clubs.

My favourite find from Suffolk is this Neolithic polished axehead dating to circa 4000 – 2100 BC, found in 2012 near Monks Eleigh. The axe is made from a finely-grained stone with a visually distinctive green/brown appearance that has been polished.

While polished stone axes were practical objects – attached to a haft and used in the felling of trees, chopping wood and in carpentry – they could also serve a variety of different purposes. One example is as weapons, which we know from the examination of skulls in mass graves in European contexts, or even as exchange goods. But other examples hint at more complex and possibly even ‘ritual’ connotations. Indeed, many have been recovered from graves, while others were deposited in the ditches/boundaries of large ‘ceremonial’ enclosures, or watery contexts such as bogs and rivers. Some have even been found as hoards placed in specifically dug pits. Together, it highlights just how fascinating these strikingly beautiful objects are.

In parts of Britain, stone axe use is a signature of the start of the Neolithic period c.4000 – 3500 BC, continuing until the start of the Bronze Age around 2300 BC. The axes were made from a variety of different stones including flint/chert, jade or fine-grained igneous rocks like this one. Consequently, they have very distinctive appearances and were transported over large distances throughout Europe, which some archaeologists think might have made them ‘exotic’. It is possible that an axe’s form and appearance connected it to their place of origin, which was passed down the generations through stories.

Polished axes were used throughout Britain and Europe in the Neolithic period. Under the microscope, petrographic analysis can determine the precise sources the axes were mined or quarried from. While axes made from flint were mined from East Anglia and have been recovered throughout Britain, this example probably comes from the south west or the Lake District, with the latter famous for the ‘axe factory’ at Great Langdale.

View the record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database.

Find Out More:

If you are interested in finding other examples of polished stone axes discovered in Suffolk search the database on the Suffolk Heritage Explorer.

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