An axe for all seasons; an investigation into the mechanical properties and uses of Irish shale and porcellanite axes from the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age, through experimental, quantitative, and comparative studies.

PhD Candidate: Bernard Gilhooly
Supervisors: Dr. Graeme Warren, Professor Gabriel Cooney
Funded By: 


Stone axes are the single most numerous artefact type to survive from Irish prehistory (Mandal et al, 2004, 116). Yet significant questions remain regarding the processes of manufacture and range of uses of axes, as well as understanding the influence of taphonomy on their final appearance in an archaeological context. Research into these processes will not only contribute to developing a better understanding of how these artefacts were constructed and what they were used for, but will also advance our interpretations of the lives of the people behind the axes.

This project will combine the study of Mesolithic and Neolithic Irish shale axes, and Irish Neolithic porcellanite axes, with the manufacture, operation, and analysis of experimental reproductions. These experimental examples, hafted as both axes and adzes, will be used for a variety of purposes, including different forms of wood-working, butchery, and as digging implements. The damage accrued by these will be analysed and compared with that found on archaeological examples. A quantitative analysis of the mechanical properties of axeheads made from both lithologies will also be undertaken. From these range of investigations, suggestions about possible uses for the archaeological examples can be made, while there is also the potential to propose which lithology or morphology may have been best suited for a particular task.