North Devon in 100 Objects: 29. Neolithic Stone Axes

3 neolithic stone axe heads.

The stone objects seen here are axe heads from the ‘New Stone Age’ or Neolithic period found near Clovelly.  The people of the Neolithic are known as the first farmers, who, spreading from the eastern Mediterranean, arrived in Britain round about 4,000 BC. To create their fields of early wheat and barley, they began to cut out swathes of the forest through which their Mesolithic predecessors had hunted and gathered.

To fell trees an axe is essential and stone axes are characteristic finds of the Neolithic. The most effective stone axes were made of flint or chert, elegantly shaped and painstakingly polished to a smooth finish with a keen cutting edge.   However, the axes in our collection are not practical tools.   They would be of little use to a woodman as they have no good cutting edge.

Unlike axes of flint and chert, these axes are made from a hard, green tinged mineral possibly coming from Mounts Bay at the far end of Cornwall and known as greenstone.   Similar greenstone axes are found all over Britain and Ireland and on the Continent, many of them coming from an ‘axe factory’ in the Lake District. It appears that they may have been prized objects representing wealth and status, the subject of inter-tribal gift exchange.  Six thousand years ago the farmers of North Devon were linked into a trading network that embraced the British Isles and beyond.

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