Saturday, August 11, 2018

Awesome Neolithic Axe Head Discovered On Orkney (not that far from the Faroes)

An excavation the Ness of Brodgar, a Neolithic archaeological site on the Orkney island of Mainland, has unearthed a ancient stone axe of unusual beauty.

Now now, we're talking about the axe, not the cute Australian archeologist.  Although she's a looker too.

The axe was found by Australian UHI archaeology student Therese McCormick on August 3rd. She was on a bit of a slog, digging through the dense, complex layers of floors in Structure Ten which is the largest Neolithic building in the north of Britain. It was built around 2900 B.C. and used until the abandonment of the Ness of Brodgar site around 2,400–2,200 B.C. Structure Ten was deliberately demolished after a rager of a ceremony that featured the ritual slaughter of hundreds of cows and deposition of their bones. This appears to have been the Ness of Brodgar’s Neolithic last hurrah, the site’s closing ceremony.

Although we'll never know what it was, there's no doubt quite the story behind why the folks living there then decided, after hundreds of years of use, to burn it all down.  With a herd of cattle.

And that means as well that the axe in question, a work of art by any measure, has been seen by a human for the first time in 4000 to 4500 years.  Four and a half millennia!  I wonder what language they spoke on the islands then?  What their word for Orkney was? Did they have a king, queen, or priestly class?  We'll never know, absent the invention of a time machine.

Made of banded gneiss with a distinctive orange band that curves at the wide end in parallel to the curvature of the cutting edge, the axe’s beauty was noticeable even when it was still covered in soil. When it was cleaned and dampened with water, the color and texture stood out even more, set off by its high-gloss polish.

One side of it has been re-sharpened. The other was not and and is heavily worn. The sharp edge and wear pattern indicate its primary function was an axe blade, but tell-tale divots on both sides of it indicate it was also used as a sort of mini anvil. Strikes against it left small, rough dents in the surface of the stone.  Hey, some things change, but most things stay the same.  Everybody misuses a tool now and then, usually out of laziness.

I wonder what else will emerge from the thick, swirling mists of history there as the dig progresses.


  1. It looks far more like a tool than a war-style axe.

    1. Although I'm sure it would serve to cleave the skull of an invader or sacrifice quite well.

    2. True.

      But even then, they had metal axes available for that sort of thing. And meteorite iron did a respectable job on an axehead.

    3. No, they didn't. There was very little metal in the Neolithic (by definition) other than some native copper and gold. They had no metallurgy, and it is highly doubtful they could process any iron meterorite. That requires high temperature kilns, very much higher than needed for ceramics.

      The following Bronze Age Indo-Europeans, however, did have metallurgy, at least for copper and tin and bronze. But they also did not have iron (hence the name). The Iron Age in the Middle East begins around 1100 BC or even later, and it is much later in the British Isles.

      As to the language they spoke, bet on some relative to Basque.

  2. Structure Ten was deliberately demolished after a rager of a ceremony that featured the ritual slaughter of hundreds of cows and deposition of their bones.

    Sounds like a typical Texas tailgate party.

  3. That's amazing. I've lived in Australia most of my life and I have never hear of those places.