The largest stone axe in situ, showing damage to the cutting edge. (PICTURE: The Ness of Brodgar Trust/UHI)

Excavations at the Ness of Brodgar neolithic site in the Orkneys continue to reveal new structures, as well as over 30,000 pieces of pottery, large quantities of bones and stone tools, including over 30 unique stone axes. Most recently, archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the Ness of Brodgar Trust unearthed two polished stone axes, one of which is the largest axe so far discovered here. 

The largest stone axe in situ, showing damage to the cutting edge. (PICTURE: The Ness of Brodgar Trust/UHI)

The expertly worked and polished object had been heavily used and damaged at the cutting edge. Site director Nick Card said, “The damage tells us a little bit more about the history of this axe and suggests that it was a working tool rather than a ceremonial object. We know that the buildings in the complex were roofed by stone slabs so this axe was perhaps used to cut and fashion the timber joists that held up the heavy roof.”

The second axe, which was discovered by student volunteer Therese McCormick, astonished the archaeologists by the sheer quality of its workmanship. The Gneiss stone had been chosen so that the natural coloured banding was reflected in the shape of the item, and then expertly worked and polished to create an object of beauty.

The second stone axe in situ showing the natural banding in the rock reflected in the shape of the axe edge. (PICTURE: The Ness of Brodgar Trust/UHI)

Nick Card continued: “This axe again tells us a little more about the life of the Neolithic people who built this place. There is again a great deal of edge damage suggesting that this axe was used extensively as a working tool, but interestingly one of the edges has been re-worked to create a new edge. In common with many of the axes found on site, this one was also placed in a special position within one of the structures opposite the entrance that was aligned east-west to catch the equinox sunrise and in line with Maeshowe. These polished stone axes unearthed at the Ness of Brodgar were clearly multifunctional tools that were not only ‘tools of the trade’ but were also perhaps symbols of power.”

Text and photos copyright BBC

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