Review – Axe-heads and Identity: an investigation into the roles of imported axe-heads in identity formation in Neolithic Britain

1 min read
Katherine Walker
Archaeopress, £40
ISBN 978-1784917449
Review Rob Ixer

In the last 15 years, the Implement Petrology Group – its members colloquially known as the mad-axers – has been reinvigorated and has returned to its mid-20th century origins. This is part of a general revival of interest in non-flint lithics, best exemplified by the definitive and highly influential European Project Jade, which puts detailed, modern lithological examination of the artefacts at their core. Indeed, most of this volume can be thought as a continuation of Project Jade.

In eight chapters and seven appendices (the latter comprise more than half the book), Dr Walker discusses and catalogues the surprisingly small number of axe-heads of non-British/Irish origin. There are few foreign petrographical axe groups, jadeite being by far the most important and probably the earliest to be imported, and so the majority of the book discusses this group. Her plotting of all archaeological finds within one or two kilometres centred on the jade axe-head find spots is worth repeating for other artefacts. Sadly, her results were inconclusive. Designated numbered groups, Group XXVI (an axe group thought until recently to be Yorkshire fakes), Group X (altered dolerites from Armorica, aka northwest France and the Channel Islands), and two flint groups – marbled flints and rectangular sectioned axe-heads – essentially comprise the rest of the text.

It is excellent to see all the disparate data collected together with a persistent reminder of the problem of fakes and manuports (most axe-heads are stray finds, others form part of donated antiquarian collections, or, these days, bought on eBay); it allows, for the first time, an overview of the ‘oddities’. This clearly shows that a re-examination of the material is overdue, and the need for the original lithological descriptions/attributions to be confirmed is the author’s constant and timely cry (but for safe progress it must to be done by a competent petrographer). The questions this book (re-)raises are important and are clarified. Most notably (placing jade to one side), why, after the early Neolithic, were so very few axes imported?

This review appeared in CA 343.

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