It just gets better: a polished stone axe head!
Something that we have kept under our hats until now is a discovery that we made when we were excavating around the polissoir site last summer. We were trowelling carefully around lots of flint pebbles that filled the gaps between sarsen boulders. We were finding a spectrum of archaeological artefacts when an eagle-eye identified a chunk of a polished flint axe! It is only the butt (end) of the axe, but this is still more than we expected to find at this stage, or at any stage. To find a polished stone axe close to an earth-fast polissoir is virtually unprecedented, even in France where dozens have been excavated!
Stone axes were important in the Neolithic, and a lot of time and effort went into their production. Raw materials were gathered in one place, flaking may have taken place in several locations, and polishing happened in another, and then they could be used anywhere. They would have been valuable because of the effort expended in manufacture and their capacity to clear woodland.
Did this one break whilst being polished? There margins of the flint are fresh and unabraded which, together with the density of the surrounding sarsen boulders, means it hasn’t move far within the soil (i.e., it can’t have been used up on the hillside and rolled down). It was found more or less in situ, and was probably discarded during polishing. The axe may have broken during initial manufacture, but it is also possible that the axe had been resharpened (i.e.. re-flaked) and the blade was being repolished when it fractured along insipient cracks caused by impact within the haft.
The flint itself is of low quality, they had used a handy nodule that was already almost axed shaped in order to reduce the amount of flaking required. This indicates it is definitely a utilitarian, rather than prestige object. This fits with the idea that is associated with the earliest Neolithic activity in the area (c. 4000 BC- 3800 BC), when they are clearing woodland. Until we are able to excavate further, we cannot confirm the date that the polissoir was used.
We have applied for funding from various different grant bodies but have hit a stumbling block (even though we have had some success in the past). As a company we are unusual in having an even commitment to community engagement and high-quality archaeological work. What this means is that we tend to fall between the gaps: most community companies don’t try to do complicated and research-led archaeology we like to do! Many grant bodies will contribute to excavation costs (c. £1000) but competition is fierce as there are few national funding bodies for archaeology and many excellent projects. It is not ethical to undertake excavation until we have a plan in place to pay for the full post-excavation costs.
Each excavation costs c. £9000 to deliver, and we would expect dating to cost somewhere between £2000-£4000 depending on soil quality and preservation levels. This is a big ask, and why we are asking for your help. If you feel able to Sponsor a Sarsen in order to help us achieve this, please use the links on our home page.
For more information on Neolithic stone axes and their production I have compiled this list of videos. They are not made by us, so we cannot be responsible for their content, but they certainly demonstrate the skills and patience required better than I can.
First up James Dilley shows the process of making a polished axe, including the use of a portable pollisoir at the end
Another video by James on Graig Lwyd: A Neolithic Axe Landscape in North Wales
Will Lord is another expert experimental archaeologist and flint knapper.