Journeys to Neolithic Langdale: how a Cumbrian landscape may help explain prehistoric movement of polished stone axes

S. Taylor

Abstract


Made from outcrops of fine-grained volcanic tuff, Langdale axes (Group VI) are the most numerous and widely distributed Neolithic axes found in the British Isles. Transported great distances from Cumbria, concentrations have been found in eastern England, the Midlands and along the Thames valley. Many researchers have considered this widespread distribution of axes, with exchange generally favoured as the means by which the artefacts moved. A range of economic, social and political models for exchange have been proposed, with values ascribed to the axes as tools, tokens of individual identity, representations of community cohesion, prestige objects, symbols of power, ceremonial and ritualistic artefacts – the functional and symbolic frequently blurred. However, despite the extensive research, it remains unclear why great numbers of these axes were moved over such long distances.

Landscape-scale GIS viewshed modelling and observational work in the field emphasised the unusual visibility of Pike o’ Stickle, the Langdale Fell where the bulk of raw material for Group VI axes was extracted. Experiential fieldwork also highlighted the powerful material agency of the mountain and confirmed the physical challenges associated with reaching the quarries. With remoteness, wide visibility and material agency, Pike o’ Stickle displays key characteristics of a sacred landscape. Taking account of the evidence for special treatment of Langdale axes at deposition, the concept of pilgrimage is explored.

Full reference: Taylor, S. 2016. Journeys to Neolithic Langdale: how a Cumbrian landscape may help explain prehistoric movement of polished stone axes. Lithics: the Journal of the Lithic Studies Society 37: 15–32.

Keywords: Langdale axes, GIS, experiential-interpretive, visibility, pilgrimage


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