10 April 2015

Neolithic axe factory.



The Borrowdale Volcanic Group underlies the highest and craggiest central part of the Lake District including the Langdale and Scarfell Pikes. These igneous rocks are volcanic lavas and ash flows erupted during a phase of cataclysmic volcanism 450 million years ago. Ash exploded out of a volcano, may fall through the air and settle in beds, when compacted and cemented these are called tuffs. 

The fine grain tuff located in a band of outcrop rock which extends around the summits of Langdale, Bow Fell, Scafell and Glaramara is the source of material for the Langdale axe production sites. This band has been eroded by glacial action and detached blocks of the tuffs are present within the morainal mounds and scree slopes below.

The majority of axe production sites were directly associated with the outcropping of this source material on either the face of Pike of Stickle and Harrison Stickle or the South scree gully. Debris and hundreds of "reject" axes have been found on the scree slopes of Pike o' Stickle.

Pike of Stickle and scree gully.

The initial identification of axe production in the Langdale area was on Mart Crag Moor between Stake pass and Pike of Stickle. 

Below is a more resent discovery in 2008 on the moraines on Mart Crag Moor. A footpath over Mart Crag Moor had formed a large erosion scar due to inadequate drainage. Consequently this exposed a previously unknown Neolithic axe manufacturing site.

Mart Crag Moor axe production site.
                          
The Neolithic axe factory Sites in the Langdales and Scarfell are where the rough outs of axes were manufactured. There is evidence that sandstone grinding slabs found on the Cumbrian coast were used to polish or finish these greenstone axes. 

Polishing the rough surfaces will have improved the mechanical strength of the axe as well as lowering friction when used against wood. Of all the Neolithic polished stone axes that have been examined in the UK, around 27% come from the Langdale region. 

Neolithic axe factory sites of Langdale and Scarfell Pike in Cumbrian, together with Grimes Grave in Norfolk represent the earliest industry of true mass production in Britain.

Polished greenstone hand axe, found at Troutbeck Bridge, 1899



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