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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.