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The Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society

Since 1863

For everyone interested in Yorkshire's past

Neolithic Yorkshire – polished axes


Polished Neolithic axe: Hare Hill, Thornton Moor, N. Yorks. (Early Neolithic 3957-3797 BC)

One of the most characteristic artefacts of the Neolithic period is the stone axe. In fact it was such a prolific and efficient tool that many scholars agree that it was responsible for much of the extensive forest clearance at this time, marking the beginning of a more open agricultural landscape which in one shape or another continues to this day. Given its extraordinary economic power in transforming the landscape and with it shaping and supporting life in the Neolithic, it is not surprising that the stone axe was revered and endowed with special status, as many highly polished stone axes of quite remarkable beauty have been found which were clearly never intended to be used as practical axes, but as decorative or ritual objects.


Axe roughout: Pike of Stickle, Great Langdale (Early Neolithic ) (S. Feather Collection)


Clearly, a special stone was required for the production of axes, and several so-called axe factories have now been identified in the UK where stone of just the right quality was worked on an almost industrial scale in the 3rd millennium BC. ‘Rough outs' of approximately the right shape and size would be prepared from the local rock, then worked on to produce the final axe. The final axes were so valuable that they were sent all over the country and provide the first real evidence of trade in UK prehistory. Large axe factories occur at Tievebulliagh in Northern Ireland, Graig Lwyd in Snowdonia and at Great Langdale in the Lake District, where the distinctively grey-green local Borrowdale volcanic tuff was exploited. Langdale, or Group VI axes, are the commonest ones found in Yorkshire.