Langdale axe industry

The Langdale axe industry is the name given by archaeologists to specialised stone tool manufacturing centred at Great Langdale in England's Lake District during the Neolithic period (beginning about 4000 BC in Britain[1]). The existence of a production site was originally suggested by chance discoveries in the 1930s, which were followed by more systematic searching in the 1940s and 1950s by Clare Fell and others. The finds were mainly reject axes, rough-outs and blades created by knapping large lumps of the rock found in the scree or perhaps by simple quarrying or opencast mining. Hammerstones have also been found in the scree and other lithic debitage from the industry such as blades and flakes.

The area has outcrops of fine-grained greenstone or hornstone suitable for making polished stone axes. Such axes have been found distributed across Great Britain.[2] The rock is an epidotised greenstone quarried or perhaps just collected from the scree slopes in the Langdale Valley on Harrison Stickle and Pike of Stickle. The nature and extent of the axe-flaking sites making up the Langdale Axe Factory complex are still under investigation. Geological mapping has established that the volcanic tuff used for the axes outcrops along a narrow range of the highest peaks in the locality. Other outcrops in the area are known to have been worked, especially on Harrison Stickle, and Scafell Pike where rough-outs and flakes have been found on platforms below the peaks at and above the 2000- or 3000-foot level.

Coordinates: 54°26′49″N 3°03′50″W / 54.447°N 3.064°W

Polished axe1
Polished stone axe
Pike O'Stickle
Pike of Stickle on the left, from the summit cairn of Pike of Blisco. The central scree run has produced many rough-out axes.
Langdales, Westmorland
Harrison Stickle, the highest of the Langdale Pikes, in the right centre of the group
Neolithic stone axe with handle ehenside tarn british museum
Neolithic stone axe from Langdale with well preserved handle from Ehenside Tarn (now in the British Museum)

Petrographic analysis

Pike of Stickle from Loft Crag
Pike of Stickle from Loft Crag
Scafell Pike from Broad Crag
The summit of Scafell Pike, seen from neighbouring Broad Crag

Archaeologists are able to identify the unique nature of the Langdale stone by taking sections and examining them using microscopy. The minerals in the rock have a characteristic pattern, using a method known as petrography. They have been able to reconstruct the production methods and trade patterns employed by the axe makers. The Langdale industry produced roughly hewn (or so-called "rough-outs") axes and simple blocks. The highly polished final product were usually made elsewhere, such as at Ehenside tarn in the western fringes of the Lake District, and all were traded on throughout Britain and Ireland. The Langdale tuff was among the most common of the various rocks used to make axes in the Neolithic period, and are known as Group VI axes. Flint was also commonly used to make polished axes, and mined at several places, but especially at Grimes Graves and Cissbury, and in continental Europe at Spiennes in Belgium, and Krzemionki in Poland.

Polishing the rough surfaces will have improved the mechanical strength of the axe as well as lowering friction when used against wood. Fractures occur more easily in brittle materials like stone when rough owing to the stress concentrations present at sharp corners, holes and other defects in the axe surface. Removing those defects by polishing makes the axe much stronger, and able to withstand impact and shock loads from use. Sandstone was usually used for polishing axes, and whetstones have been found nearby at Ehenside tarn, for example where the rough-outs were polished. Large fixed outcrops were also widely used for polishing, and there are numerous examples across Europe, but relatively few in Britain. That at Fyfield Down near Avebury is an exception, but there must be many more awaiting discovery and publication.

Distribution and use

The stone axes from Langdale have been found at archaeological sites across Britain and Ireland. An unusual concentration of finds occurs in the East of England, particularly Lincolnshire. Francis Pryor[3] attributes this to these axes being particularly valued in this region. He mentions possible religious significance of the axes, perhaps related to the high peaks from which they came. He compares this with confirmed Neolithic flint mines which, apart from Grimes Graves (where flint of exceptionally high quality was mined), were all at prominent elevated locations.

Of all the Neolithic polished stone axes that have been examined in the UK, around 27% come from the Langdale region. This is notable considering there were over 30 sources of material for stone axes from Cornwall to northern Scotland and Ireland.

Whether religious objects or not, the axes must have been of high value, given that they have been "traded" so widely. Some axes appear worn whilst others appear unused, again implying that they were regarded as sacred objects or, perhaps, simply as a display of visible wealth. Some though were used as practical tools. The shape of the polished axes suggests that they were bound in wooden staves and used for forest clearance.

Francis Pryor discusses a flint axe that he found north of Peterborough with fantastic swirling patterns that had been brought out by polishing – but this axe was totally impractical as the patterns were fault lines, making the flint very fragile. However, it must have been valued by its owner and/or maker, bearing in mind the work involved in making it. These facts suggest various interpretations of the purpose of the Langdale axes, which were both beautiful and practical, as well as being traded many miles from their place of production.


The Malone hoard of polished axes from Tievebulliagh or Rathlin Island

The Langdale industry was one of many which extracted hard stone for manufacture into polished axes. The Neolithic period was a time of settlement on the land, and the development of farming on a large scale. Maintenance of the forest cover was necessary in order to plant crops and rear animals, so axes were a staple tool, not just for clearance but also for wood working timber for houses, boats and other structures. Flint was probably the most widely used, simply because it was available from numerous flint mines in the downlands, such as Grimes Graves, Cissbury and Spiennes. Blades from roughing-out from flint and chert could also be used as small knives, arrowheads and other small sharp tools such as burins and awls.

Mount William Aboriginal stone axe quarry
Mount William stone axe quarry in Australia where stone axes were made in recent times
Horsne dibjars i
Grooves used for polishing the edges of stone axes, Gotland, Sweden

But other hard and tough stones were used, such as igneous rocks from Penmaenmawr in North Wales, and similar working areas to Langdale have been found there. Many other locations for production of axes have been suggested (but not always found) across the country including Tievebulliagh in County Antrim, sites in Cornwall, Scotland and the Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire. It is also likely that bluestone axes were exported from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire. The industry was also widely developed elsewhere in the world, such as in Australia at Mount William stone axe quarry which used a similar rock until relatively recent times. The variety of rocks used in polished tools and other artefacts is evident in museum collections, not all of the sources of the rocks having been positively identified. Taking sections is necessarily destructive of part of the artefact, and thus discouraged by many museums. Likewise, the rocks or anvils used to polish the axes are rare in Britain but common in France and Sweden.

Radiocarbon dating at the Langdale stone axe factory site suggests that it was in operation for about 1,000 years during the Neolithic period.

Current thinking links the manufacturers of the axes to some of the first Neolithic stone circles such as that at Castlerigg.[4][5]


The altitude and rough terrain of the archaeological sites have protected them from types of damage caused by human settlement in lowland areas. However, Great Langdale is much visited by walkers. People have removed axes (although current thinking is that they should be left in situ) and have caused inadvertent damage to stone scatters by walking.

An attempt to schedule the sites as ancient monuments in the 1980s was thwarted by the lack of reliable mapping.[6] However, English Heritage has been considering questions on how the sites should be managed.[7] Particular attention has been paid to the siting of footpaths to avoid damage to axeworking sites.[6] Since the 1990s eroded paths in the Lake District, including Great Langdale, have been repaired by a "Fix the Fells" project in which the National Trust is the major partner.

Langdale axes are displayed in Cumbria at Kendal Museum and Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle,[8] and in other collections such as the British Museum.

See also


  1. ^ Scarre, Chris (2005). The Human Past. Thames & Hudson. p. 414. ISBN 9780500285312.
  2. ^ Rodney Castleden, Neolithic Britain: new stone age sites of England, Scotland, and Wales. Routledge. 1992. ISBN 0415058457. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  3. ^ Francis Pryor Britain BC, publ. Harper Collins 2003 ISBN 0-00-712692-1
  4. ^ "Ancient monuments - The Heritage Journal". Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  5. ^ Article on Castlerigg and the axe industry of Langdale
  6. ^ a b Axeworking sites on path renewal schemes
  7. ^ "National Importance Programme". Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  8. ^ information about the stone axes that the Tullie House Museum has in its collection


  • Clare Fell, The Great Langdale stone-axe factory, Trans Cumberland and Westmorland Antiand Arch Soc, 50, 1-13 (1950).

External links

Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.


A cist ( or ; also kist ;

from Greek: κίστη or Germanic Kiste) is a small stone-built coffin-like box or ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead. Examples can be found across Europe and in the Middle East.

A cist may have been associated with other monuments, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow. Several cists are sometimes found close together within the same cairn or barrow. Often ornaments have been found within an excavated cist, indicating the wealth or prominence of the interred individual.

This old word is preserved in the Swedish language, where "kista" is the word for a funerary coffin.

Clare Fell

Clare Isobel Fell (10 October 1912 – 17 July 2002) was a British archaeologist.She was born in Ulverston, Lancashire (now Cumbria), England. She read archaeology at Newnham College, Cambridge in the 1930s. The university did not allow women to take degrees at that time, and she received her MA in 1948. After the Second World War she worked at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge before moving back to Ulverston in 1953.

In 1949 she worked on Grahame Clark's excavations at the Star Carr Mesolithic site in Yorkshire.

Around the same time she began studying the Langdale axe industry in Cumbria, the project for which she is perhaps best remembered. She was not the first person to notice that Neolithic axes had been produced in Great Langdale, but she was able to demonstrate the scale of the activity there, and used the word "factory" to describe it. She also guessed correctly that other quarries would be found on outcrops of volcanic tuff in the Lake District.

Fell kept up to date with scientific advances and collaborated with Winifred Pennington in the study of the effects of humans on the environment, resulting in pioneering pollen analyses for prehistoric artefact layers from sites in Cumbria.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Eden point

Eden Points are a form of chipped stone projectile points associated with a sub-group of the larger Plano culture. Sometimes also called Yuma points, the first Eden points were discovered in washouts in Yuma County, Colorado. They were first discovered in situ at an ancient buffalo kill site near Eden, Wyoming by Harold J. Cook in 1941. The site, named after discoverer O. M. Finley, eventually yielded 24 projectile points, including eight Eden points, eight Scottsbluff points and one complete Cody point, both other sub-groups within the Plano group. Eden points are believed to have been used between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago by paleo-indian hunters in the western plains.

Eden points are the most common paleo-indian projectile points found today. They have been discovered across the western plain states, including Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Montana.

Grattoir de côté

A Grattoir de côté (translates from French as Side Scraper) is an archaeological term for a ridged variety of steep-scrapers distinguished by a working edge on one side. They were found at various archaeological sites in Lebanon including Ain Cheikh and Jdeideh II and are suggested to date to Upper Paleolithic stages three or four (Antelian).

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.


In archaeology, a hammerstone is a hard cobble used to strike off lithic flakes from a lump of tool stone during the process of lithic reduction. The hammerstone is a rather universal stone tool which appeared early in most regions of the world including Europe, India and North America. This technology was of major importance to prehistoric cultures before the age of metalworking.

Industry (archaeology)

In the archaeology of the Stone Age, an industry or technocomplex is a typological classification of stone tools. It is not to be confused with industrial archaeology, which concentrates on industrial sites from more recent periods.

An industry consists of a number of lithic assemblages, typically including a range of different types of tools, that are grouped together on the basis of shared technological or morphological characteristics. For example, the Acheulean industry includes hand-axes, cleavers, scrapers and other tools with different forms, but which were all manufactured by the symmetrical reduction of a bifacial core producing large flakes. Industries are usually named after a type site where these characteristics were first observed (e.g. the Mousterian industry is named after the site of Le Moustier). By contrast, Neolithic axeheads from the Langdale axe industry were recognised as a type well before the centre at Great Langdale was identified by finds of debitage and other remains of the production, and confirmed by petrography (geological analysis). The stone was quarried and rough axe heads were produced there, to be more finely worked and polished elsewhere.

As a taxonomic classification of artefacts, industries rank higher than archaeological cultures. Cultures are usually defined from a range of different artefact types and are thought to be related to a distinct cultural tradition. By contrast, industries are defined by basic elements of lithic production which may have been used by many unrelated human groups over tens or even hundred thousands of years, and over very wide geographical ranges. Sites producing tools from the Acheulean industry stretch from France to China, as well as Africa. Consequently, shifts between lithic industries are thought to reflect major milestones in human evolution, such as changes in cognitive ability or even the replacement of one human species by another. Therefore, artefacts from a single industry may come from a number of different cultures.

Lamoka projectile point

Lamoka projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States, generally in the time interval of 3500-2500 B.C. They predate the invention of the bow and arrow, and are therefore not true "arrowheads", but rather atlatl dart points. They derive their name from the specimens found at the Lamoka site in Schuyler County, New York.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Plano point

In archeology, Plano point is flaked stone projectile points and tools created by the various Plano cultures of the North American Great Plains between 9000 BC and 6000 BC for hunting, and possibly to kill other humans.

They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

Stone tool

A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistoric (particularly Stone Age) cultures that have become extinct. Archaeologists often study such prehistoric societies, and refer to the study of stone tools as lithic analysis. Ethnoarchaeology has been a valuable research field in order to further the understanding and cultural implications of stone tool use and manufacture.Stone has been used to make a wide variety of different tools throughout history, including arrow heads, spearpoints and querns. Stone tools may be made of either ground stone or chipped stone, and a person who creates tools out of the latter is known as a flintknapper.

Chipped stone tools are made from cryptocrystalline materials such as chert or flint, radiolarite, chalcedony, obsidian, basalt, and quartzite via a process known as lithic reduction. One simple form of reduction is to strike stone flakes from a nucleus (core) of material using a hammerstone or similar hard hammer fabricator. If the goal of the reduction strategy is to produce flakes, the remnant lithic core may be discarded once it has become too small to use. In some strategies, however, a flintknapper reduces the core to a rough unifacial or bifacial preform, which is further reduced using soft hammer flaking techniques or by pressure flaking the edges.

More complex forms of reduction include the production of highly standardized blades, which can then be fashioned into a variety of tools such as scrapers, knives, sickles and microliths. In general terms, chipped stone tools are nearly ubiquitous in all pre-metal-using societies because they are easily manufactured, the tool stone is usually plentiful, and they are easy to transport and sharpen.


Tievebulliagh (from Irish: Taobh Builleach) is a 554-metre-high (1,818 ft) mountain in the Glens of Antrim, Northern Ireland. It forms part of the watershed between Glenaan to the north and Glenballyemon to the south. It is situated about 4.4 km from Cushendall.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.


In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.

Yubetsu technique

The Yubetsu technique (湧別技法, Yūbetsu gihō) is a special technique to make microblades, proposed by Japanese scholar Yoshizaki in 1961, based on his finds in some Upper Palaeolithic sites in Hokkaido, Japan, which date from c. 13,000 bp.

The name comes from the Yūbetsu River (湧別川, Yubetsugawa), on the right bank of which the Shirataki (白滝遺跡, Shirataki Iseki) Palaeolithic sites were discovered.

To make microblades by this technique, a large biface is made into a core which looks like a tall carinated scraper. Then one lateral edge of the bifacial core is removed, producing at first a triangular spall. After, more edge removals will produce ski spalls of parallel surfaces.

This technique was also used from Mongolia to Kamchatka Peninsula during the later Pleistocene.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.