Have Axe, Will Travel: caveman took tool across the Irish Sea

Irish Daily Mail, Wednesday, May 21, 2008

by Pat Flynn

A six thousand year old axe found in County Clare was brought over to Ireland by a Stone Age Englishman, scientists believe. The weapon originally came from the Cumbrian Lake District and means that the two countries were trading 4,000 years before Christ.

Yesterday, the axe, which was found eight years ago, was put on display for the first time at the Clare Museum in Ennis. Curator John Rattigan said, ‘The linking of this stone axe with Cumbria suggests there was contact between Neolithic people in Ireland and in mainland Great Britain.’

The Neolithic or New Stone Age (4000 to 2.500BC) is regarded as the period in which Ireland became a predominantly agricultural-based society. As well as seeing the first Irish farmers, the people of this period were the creators of field systems and the builders of great tombs such as those found in the Burren in Co. Clare.

‘Very different to our stone’

Tools, usually in the form of stone axes, were used to clear great tracts of oak and elm woodland.

Mr. Rattigan explained how the Clare Museum, working with the Irish Stone Axe Project, which is based at University College Dublin, discovered that the Cumbria axe was different to anything produced in Ireland. He said, ‘Studies on the finely polished implement have found that it is different to the typical dark grey shale axes produced at a site close to the cobble beach at Doolin. More significantly, petrological analysis indicates that the pale green axe was of a type of stone known as tuff, which is typical of the tools produced in Cumbria.’ He concluded, ‘This discovery reinforces suggestions that trade links existed between the West of Ireland and western Britain during the Neolithic era.’

The museum has now put a collection of archaeological objects from the Doolin area on display. Under the National Monuments Act the museum was legally entitled to retain these objects on behalf of the state. The axe was sent to the ISAP, an organisation which aims to promote the significance of stone axes in Ireland, at UCD for analysis in November 2007.

The Neolithic period was a mini-renaissance in the development of human technology. Key elements for farming, such as cereal grains and domesticated animals, were moved to Ireland by people travelling on boats and it is believed that the Cumbria axe would have arrived on our shores in this way.

Sea or river travel was conducted in dugout canoes or skin-covered boats. It is not thought that Neolithic boats were sail driven, meaning boatmen would have been at the mercy of tidal currents and waves.

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