Making a Neolithic axe from Graig Lwyd volcanic material: a short photo essay

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One of my colleagues, Alison Ollier, is doing her PhD research sourcing the volcanic materials  from North Wales that were used to produce Neolithic polished stone axes. She has a geological background and is also interested in how the material can be worked. Consequently she brought me a large block of this volcanic stone to experiment with.

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Because I am not familiar with Neolithic axes Elizabeth Healey lent me the replica discussed in the previous post. This was to give me an idea what I was aiming for. One of the outstanding aspects of this block was the fantastic platforms it presented. Because it was both large and potentially dense I used my hardest hammerstone, an almost perfectly rounded cobble of flint, and off we went.

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This volcanic material flaked cleanly and provided very sharp edges, but I would struggle to tell from the flakes what kind of hammer had been used to remove them.

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Anyway, after removing a good number of large flakes semi-disaster struck. My best hammerstone retired itself. I have got to say that the volcanic material has a really good feel to it, and also an interesting smell when you knap it.

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Anyway, I shifted to a smaller hammerstone and was surprised to find that the roughout I was producing was Neolithic axe like in shape. Things were going well, partly because I was taking it slowly as I wanted Alison to have something useful to take away.

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Whilst the earlier photograph presents this axe’s ‘acceptable’ face, this other side boasted this series of horrible step fractures. As I carried on with the hard hammer these presented a problem that proved increasingly difficult to remove. I needed a different approach and it was this step fractured section that led to my own second moment of enlightenment. I have to segue here to a short video I watched recently of Will Lord making a flint point. I saw him using a large antler hammer differently to how I understood them to be used. Essentially he hit into the body of the flint to remove long thin flakes. I observed with interest and that was that.

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So I was left with this horrible stepped section and it seemed that I needed to do something different to remove it. Consequently I used an abrading stone to isolate a platform and then chose my heaviest antler hammer

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Following Will Lord’s example I hit into the body of the material through the isolated platform and with the heavy hammer. It worked beautifully in that a large and long flake removed all the horrible stepping in one go. Perfect. This was a real eye opener for me and as you can see, the character and size of that flake scar differs from all the others on that piece. I stopped after that. It was getting late and I felt that I had achieved a result. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was the right shape and size, and I had learned something. Elizabeth has suggested she may have a go at grinding and polishing it which would be interesting. For me, I am just keen to explore a little more this novel way of using the antler to achieve these long thin flakes. And Alison has her Neolithic axe and associated debitage.

 

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