8. The Reworking of Stone Axes

A curious difference can be observed between the assemblages from sites on the south-west Cumbrian coastal plain and those from the limestone uplands of eastern Cumbria. In the former, flakes of volcanic tuff bearing traces of a polished surface indicating that they are derived from the use or reworking of polished implements are rare. Only five in total have been recorded, from Corney (Cherry and Cherry 1985), Monk Moors (1) and Williamson's Moss (2) Eskmeals (Cherry and Cherry 1986), and Walkhole Bank, Silecroft (Cherry and Cherry 1987a). In addition, a review of the material found in the St Bees area in the Carlisle Museum has identified one large flake from Tarnflat 1 and three large fragments from Rottington 5 (Cherry and Cherry 1973; 1983).

In contrast, sites on the upland limestone have produced no less than 139 artefacts (Davis in Cherry 1987a; Cherry and Cherry 1995), considered to derive from axes, adzes, hoes and chisels. Some of these artefacts show evidence of being detached in use; others show, from work wear visible on flake scars, use in a partially ground condition. However, in general, very few show signs of reuse by retouch or utilisation.

The survey of sites on the south-west Cumbrian coastal plain carried out by the writer's family produced a total of 61,428 artefacts, in comparison with 16,171 artefacts from the limestone uplands (Cherry and Cherry 2002). No less than 714 artefacts of volcanic tuff were found in south-west Cumbria, as against 255 on the limestone uplands. Thus, less than 2% of finds of volcanic tuff from south-west Cumbria appear to derive from the use or reworking of polished implements, in contrast to over 50% of the volcanic tuff artefacts from the eastern limestone uplands. The overall numbers of volcanic tuff artefacts found shows that the low number of volcanic tuff flakes showing evidence of polished surfaces in south-west Cumbria cannot be explained by a failure to recognise volcanic tuff artefacts in the field.

Finds of axes from south-west Cumbria contain a number of roughouts (see e.g. Manby 1965; Cherry 1969; Cherry and Cherry 1984). It may be that, in this area, axes tended to be used in a partially ground or unground state to a greater extent than on the limestone uplands. In that event, a smaller proportion of flakes resulting from use or reworking would have evidence of ground or polished surfaces, and thus be easily identifiable as deriving from axes or adzes.


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