Langdale axe industry
The Langdale axe industry is the name given by archaeologists to the centre of a specialised stone tool manufacturing at Great Langdale in England's Lake District during the Neolithic period (beginning about 4000 BC in Britain ).
The area has outcrops of fine-grained greenstone suitable for making polished axes which have been found distributed across Great Britain. The rock is an epidotised greenstone quarried or perhaps just collected from the scree slopes in the Langdale Valley on Harrison Stickle and Pike of Stickle.
Archaeologists are able to identify the unique nature of the Langdale stone by taking sections and examining them using microscopy. The minerals in the rock have a characteristic pattern, using a method known as petrography. They have been able to reconstruct the production methods and trade patterns employed by the axe makers. The Langdale industry produced roughly hewn (or so-called "rough-outs") axes and simple blocks as well as the highly polished final product and all were traded on throughout Britain and Ireland. Polishing the rough surfaces will have improved the mechanical strength of the axe as well as lowering friction when used against wood.
Distribution and Use
The stone axes from Langdale have been found at archeological sites across Britain and Ireland. An unusual concentration of finds occurs in the East of England, particularly Lincolnshire. Francis Pryor attributes this to these axes being particularly valued in this region. He mentions possible religious significance of the axes, perhaps related to the high peaks from which they came. He compares this with confirmed Neolithic flint mines which, apart from Grimes Graves (where flint of exceptionally high quality was mined), were all at prominent elevated locations.
Of all the Neolithic polished stone axes that have been examined in the UK, around 27% come from the Langdale region. This is notable considering there were over 30 sources of material for stone axes from Cornwall to northern Scotland and Ireland.
Whether religious objects or not, the axes must have been of high value, given that they have been "traded" so widely. Some axes appear worn whilst others appear unused, again implying that they were regarded as sacred objects or, perhaps, simply as a display of visible wealth. Some, though were used used as practical tools. The shape of the polished axes suggests that they were bound in wooden staves and used for forest clearance.
Francis Pryor discusses a flint axe that he found north of Peterborough with fantastic swirling patterns that had been brought out by polishing - but this axe was totally impractical as the patterns were fault lines, making the flint very fragile. However, it must have been valued by its owner and/or maker, bearing in mind the work involved in making it. These facts suggest various interpretations of the purpose of the Langdale axes, which were both beautiful and practical, as well as being traded many miles from their place of production.
The Langdale industry was just one of many which extracted hard stone for manufacture into polished axes. The Neolithic period was a time of settlement on the land, and the development of farming on a very large scale. Clearance of the forest cover was necessary in order to plant crops and rear animals, so axes were a staple tool, not just for clearance but also for wood working timber for houses, boats and other structures. Flint was probably the most widely used, simply because it was available from numerous flint mines in the downlands, such as Grimes Graves. Cissbury and Spiennes. Offcuts from roughing-out could also be used as small knives, arrowheads and other small sharp tools.
But other stones were used, such as those from Penmaenmawr in North Wales, and similar working areas to Langdale have been found there. Many other locations for production of axes have been found across the country including Tievebulliagh in County Antrim, sites in Cornwall, Scotland and elsewhere. The variety of rocks used in polished tools and other artefacts is evident in museum collections, not all of the sources of the rocks having been positively identified. Taking sections is necessarily destructive of part of the artefact, and thus discouraged by many museums.
Radiocarbon dating at the Langdale stone axe factory site suggests that it was in operation for about 1,000 years during the Neolithic period.
- Grimes Graves
- Great Orme
- Flint tool
- Stone tool
- Scarre, Chris (2005). The Human Past. Thames & Hudson. p. 414. ISBN 9780500285312.
- Rodney Castleden, Neolithic Britain: new stone age sites of England, Scotland, and Wales. Routledge, 1992, ISBN 0415058457. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
- Francis Pryor Britain BC, publ. Harper Collins 2003 ISBN 987654321
- Clare Fell, The Great Langdale stone-axe factory, Trans Cumberland and Westmorland Antiq and Arch Soc, 50, 1-13 (1950).
- Megalithic portal article on Langdale axe factory
- Article on Castlerigg and the Axe industry of Langdale
- Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery link to website which contains information about the stone axes that the museum has in its collection