The Ancient Stone Implements, Weapons, and Ornaments of Great Britain/Chapter 5



The implements belonging to this class testify to a greater amount of pains having been bestowed upon them than on those which have been chipped only; yet the labour in grinding them has been far less than with those which are polished over their entire surface. There are some which occupy an intermediate position between those ground at the edge only, and those which are polished all over; inasmuch as not only has their edge been sharpened by grinding, but the principal asperities both of the sides and faces have been removed in a similar manner, yet without polishing anything like the entire surface. These may be classed among polished celts; and, indeed, any distinction that can be drawn between celts partly and wholly polished is imaginary rather than real, as it is only a difference in degree. The specimens of this class which I have selected for engraving present, as a rule, some slight peculiarity either in form or in other respects.

The first of these, Fig. 30, is remarkable for the extremely rude manner in which it is chipped out, and for the small portion of its surface which is polished. So rude, indeed, is it, that an inexperienced eye would hardly accept it as being of human workmanship. The edge, however, has unmistakeably been ground. Possibly the implement may have been chipped out from a fragment of a larger polished celt, of which the edge had been preserved. It is of flint, quite whitened by exposure, and was found by myself upon the Downs, near Eastbourne, on September 12th, 1852, being the first stone implement I ever discovered. I have since found a similar but larger celt in a field of my own at Abbot's Langley, Herts. It is 41/2 inches long, and the edge has been intentionally blunted by grinding, so that it was possibly a battle-axe. I have some other specimens which appear to have been made from fragments of larger polished celts. One of these, found near Icklingham, 21/4 inches wide and 23/4 inches long, is almost pear-shaped in outline, but truncated at the butt, where it is about an inch wide. I have several similar implements from France and Belgium, the butt-ends of which are battered, as if they had been used as wedges.

Fig. 30.—Downs near Eastbourne.1/2 Fig. 31.—Culford, Suffolk.1/2

The original of Fig. 31 is curious in another aspect, it having been shaped, with the exception of the edge, entirely by nature, and not by art. The tendency of certain kinds of flint to split up into more or less regular prisms by assuming a sort of columnar structure, much like that which is exhibited by starch in drying, is well known. The maker of this implement has judiciously selected one of these prisms, which required no more than a moderate amount of grinding at one end to convert it into a neat and useful tool. It was found at Culford, in Suffolk, and formerly belonged to Mr. Warren, of Ixworth, but is now in my own collection.

Fig. 32.—Near Mildenhall, Suffolk. 1/2
The celt represented in Fig. 32 is also mine, and was found in the same neighbourhood, near Mildenhall. It is pointed and entirely unpolished at the butt-end, which, had that part only been preserved, would have had all the appearance of being the point of an implement of the Palæolithic period. It is, however, ground to a thin circular edge at the broad end. Another, nearly similar, from Burwell Fen, is in the Museum of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society. I have another, rather straighter at the edge, but even more sharply pointed at the butt, from Reach Fen, and several others from the Eastern Counties. One[1] of the three celts found in the Upton Lovel Barrow was of much the same shape, only larger and more rudely shipped. It had also apparently more of its surface polished. General Pitt Rivers has a large Indian celt of this character, but broader in its proportions, found in Bundelcund. It is not of flint. I have smaller specimens from Madras, but more like Fig. 33.

Fig. 33.—Sawdon, North Yorkshire. 1/2
Approaching to the form of Fig. 32, but rather broader at the edge and more truncated at the butt, where a cavity in the flint has interfered with the symmetry, is another celt in my own collection, found at Sawdon, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, and engraved as Fig. 33. It has been skilfully rubbed to a sharp segmental edge, but no labour has been wasted in grinding any portion of the face beyond what was necessary to produce the edge. Towards the butt-end some few of the facets and projections are, however, highly polished, but by friction only, as the surface is still uneven and not ground down. These polished patches, as has been pointed out by Professor Steenstrup, are probably significant of the blade having been mounted in a horn or wooden socket, though not so firmly but that there was some little motion in it, so that the resulting friction produced the polish. A celt of this class, formed of ochreous flint, with a semicircular edge, the sides straight, and partly ground away, is in the Fitch Collection at Norwich. It is 61/2 inches long, and was found at Martlesham Hill, Suffolk. A good example found in 1880 at Hinchcombe,[2] Gloucestershire has been figured. Another, about 9 inches long, rounded at the sides, and partly ground on the faces, was found in a barrow at Hartland, Devon, and is preserved in the museum at Truro. One of black flint, 41/8 inches long, was found at Pen-y-bonc,[3] Holyhead Island, in 1873. It is curved, and may have been used as an adze. Small specimens of this form are occasionally found in Suffolk. In Yorkshire, they occur of still smaller size. In the Greenwell Collection is one from Willerby Wold, 2 inches long and nearly triangular in outline; and another with an oblique edge from Helperthorpe, 21/8 inches long. One from Ganton Wold, 23/4 inches long, has a straight edge. I have a very rude specimen from the Yorkshire Wolds about 13/4 inches long, 13/4 inches wide at the edge, and 1 inch at the butt. They occur also in Scotland. The late Dr. John Stuart showed me a sketch of a flint celt of this type, 43/4 inches long, from Bogingarry, Old Deer, Aberdeenshire. Another, 15/8 inches by 1 inch, was found near Dundee.[4] One very like the figure was found at Urquhart,[5] Elgin. I have a celt of this character (4 inches), from the neighbourhood of Mons, in Belgium. Another much more elongated form, but still belonging to the same class of implements, is that represented by Fig. 34. The original is of grey flint, and was found at Weston, Norfolk. The grinding is continued farther along the body of the implement than in the former examples, especially on one of the faces, and the asperities of the sides have in places been removed by the same process. About halfway along the blade, some of the facets have been polished by friction.

The Ancient Stone Implements (1897) 0112.png

Fig. 34.—Weston, Norfolk.1/2

In the Greenwell Collection is a beautiful specimen, 81/4 inches long, 2 inches broad at edge, and 3/4 inch at butt, and nowhere more than 5/8 inch thick. It is most skilfully chipped, and the grinding extends only 1/2 inch back from the edge. The sides have been made straight by grinding, and are slightly rounded. It was found at Kinlochew, Rossshire. Another in the same collection, 91/4 inches long, was found at Kilham, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. I have seen one 8 inches long from Leighton Buzzard. One of the same length from Fordoun,[6] Kincardineshire, has been figured.

Fig. 35.—Mildenhall. 1/2
I have two shorter specimens, about the same breadth as Fig. 34 at the cutting edge, from the neighbourhood of Bury St. Edmunds and Mildenhall. They do not, however, present any of the polished marks. The sides of both have to a certain extent been made straight by grinding. One of these with the natural crust of the flint still left at the butt-end is shown in Fig. 35. I have several others from the Eastern Counties, and two of much the same form from Carnaby Moor and King's Field, near Bridlington. The Greenwell Collection has specimens found at Woodhall, near Harbottle, Northumberland, and at Stanford, Norfolk. The latter is sharp at the butt. Others have been found in the Thames, and are now in the British Museum. I have a note of one 6 inches long from the Priory Valley, Dover.

Others from Debenham, Suffolk, from Dunham, Norfolk, and from Thorpe, are in the Norwich Museum.

One of white flint 41/2 inches long, with square butt, made straight by grinding, and with the faces chipped in such a manner as to form a central ridge, so that the grinding at the edge shows an almost triangular facet, was found at Kirby Underdale, and is in the Greenwell Collection. The sides in this specimen curve slightly inward.

The two celts found by the late Mr. Bateman, in Liff's Low,[7] near Biggin, in company with a curious cup, a stag's horn hammer, and numerous worked flints, including two flakes ground at the edge, were of this form and character. The larger of the two is about 7 inches long.

Mr. Cunnington, F.G.S., has a small celt of this kind from Morton, near Dorchester. Messrs. Mortimer, of Driffield, have specimens of the same class. One of these (43/4 inches) is from Garton, Yorkshire; another similar, but less taper (43/8 inches), is from Lady Graves, near Fimber, where also a ruder celt of the same character was found. I have a small celt 3 inches long of the same class, from Seamer, Yorkshire. One of dark flint, slightly curved (51/4 inches), found at South Slipperfield, West Linton, Peeblesshire, is preserved in the National Museum at Edinburgh.[8]

It was the cutting end of a celt of this class, sharp at the sides, and ground at the edge only, which is said to have been found embedded in the skull of a Bos primigenius,[9] in a fen near Cambridge. The skull and implement are in the Woodwardian Museum. In the Fitch Collection is a small flint adze of this character, but rather narrower, and very much thinner in proportion. It is 41/2 inches long, about 13/8 inches broad, and only 1/4 inch thick. It is considerably curved in the direction of its length, and bears only slight traces of grinding at the edge, which is segmental. It was found at Santon Downham, Suffolk. I have two such thin adzes nearly flat (43/4 and 41/4 inches) from West Stow, Suffolk, and Thetford. They are both ground to a sharp edge.

A celt, in form like Fig. 35, found with flint knives and other implements in some beds of sand near York, has been figured by Mr. C. Monkman.[10] Similar implements are found in Ireland. I have two such, almost identical in form with those from Suffolk. They are both from Ulster. The same form occurs in Belgium.

Fig. 35a.—Reach Fen. 1/2
One of these more adze-like implements with a considerable part of the convex face polished, was found in Reach Fen, and is shown in Fig. 35a. Fig. 84a, which is polished all over, belongs to the same class.

I have a fine bowed narrow adze (7 inches) ground at the edge only, from Hampshire.

The celt represented in Fig. 36 is of remarkable form, inasmuch as, like the unground specimen, Fig. 21, the sides expand at the butt-end. It was found in Burwell Fen, and is in the collection of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society. It is formed of chalcedonic flint, and the sharp sides are partially smoothed by grinding. It is slightly curved in the direction of its length, and may have been used as an adze. I have one of the same character (55/8 inches) from Swaffham, Cambs, and another (43/4 inches) from Oldbury, Ightham, given me by Mr. B. Harrison, in which the narrowing in the middle of the blade is even more conspicuous. One much like the figure, but with shorter sides (57/8 inches) was found near Dundee.[11] Another smaller, and somewhat similar implement, but expanding more towards the edge and less at the butt, was found at Bridge Farm, near North Tawton, Devon, and was in the possession of Mr. W. Vicary, F.G.S., of Exeter.

A few celts expanding at the edge, and polished all over, will be subsequently described.

In Fig. 37 is shown a flint celt, found near Thetford, and formerly in the collection of Mr. J. W. Flower, F.G.S. It is partially ground at the edge and on the projecting portion of one face, which is curved lengthwise. The other face is rather ogival, and much resembles that of the chipped celt from Mildenhall, Fig. 12. I have a shorter specimen of the same character from Icklingham.

Fig. 36—Burwell Fen.1/2 Fig. 37.—Thetford.1/2

Flint celts of the form of Fig. 23, but having the edge ground, frequently occur. I have specimens from Burwell Fen, Icklingham, and other places in the Eastern Counties. One was found at Stifford, near Gray's Thurrock, Essex, 61/2 inches long.[12] The late Mrs. Dickinson, of Hurstpierpoint, had another, 6 inches long, found at Pycombe Hill, Sussex. The late Mr. Durden, of Blandford, had one, now in the British Museum, from the encampment on Hod Hill, Dorsetshire. I have one or two such from the site of the ancient manufactory at Spiennes, near Mons, and others from the North of France.

The next specimen, Fig. 38, I have engraved on account of the peculiarity in its form. The butt-end, for nearly 21/2 inches along it, has the sides nearly parallel, the blade then suddenly expands with a rounded shoulder, and terminates in a semicircular edge, which is neatly ground, the rest of the celt being left in the state in which it was chipped out. From the form, it would appear as if this implement had been intended to be mounted by the insertion of the butt-end in a socket, like that shown in Fig. 98, so that it could be used as an axe. The axis of the butt is not quite in the same line as that of the rest of the blade. It was found at Undley Common, near Lakenheath, and is in the Greenwell Collection.

The Ancient Stone Implements (1897) 0116.png

Fig. 38.—Undley Common, Lakenheath.1/2

A remarkable specimen of an allied kind is shown in Fig. 38a. The edge only is ground and a flat surface has been left at the butt-end, which is almost circular. It was found on Ringwood Gore Farm, East Dean, Sussex, and was given to me by Mr. R. Hilton.

Another form, apparently intended for use as an adze, is also of rare occurrence. The specimen shown in Fig. 39 was found at Ganton, Yorkshire, and is in my own collection. It is very much more convex on one face than the other, which, indeed, is nearly flat. The grinding is confined to the edge, but some parts of the flat face are polished as if by friction.

The late Dr. John Stuart, F. S. A. Scot., showed me a sketch of a large implement of this type, and considerably bowed longitudinally, found at Bogingarry, Old Deer, Aberdeenshire. It is of flint, 41/2 inches long, and 2 inches wide.

The Ancient Stone Implements (1897) 0117a.png

Fig. 38a.—East Dean.1/2

Fig. 39.—Ganton.1/2 Fig. 40.—Swaffham Fen.1/2

Another form of adze, if such it be, remarkably flat on one face and narrow at the butt, is shown in Fig. 40. This specimen was found in Swaffham Fen, Cambridge, and is in my own collection. The flat face has been produced at a single blow, and has been left almost untouched, except where trimmed by chipping to form the edge, which, however, has been rendered blunt by grinding. The sides are very minutely chipped along the angles, and there seems some possibility of the instrument having been used as a rimer or boring tool.

The celts of other materials than flint, and ground only at the edge, are of rarer occurrence than those in flint. That engraved as Fig. 41 was found at Grindale, near Bridlington. It is of felstone, and is remarkable as being so much curved in the direction of its length. I have another smaller specimen from the same place, but the blade is straight. The edge, however, is slightly gouge-like.

Mr. J. W. Brooke has a small adze of flint (21/4 inches) in outline almost identical with Fig. 41. It came from near Aldbourne, Wilts.

Fig. 41.—Grindale, Bridlington.1/2 Fig. 42.—North Burton.1/2

Another of these instruments expanding towards the edge, and apparently adapted for insertion in a socket, is shown in Fig. 42. It is made of hone-stone, and the flat butt is the result of a natural joint in the stone. It was found at North Burton, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and is in the Greenwell Collection, where is also a celt of greenstone much like Fig. 41, found in a barrow with a burnt interment on Seamer Moor, Yorkshire; and another of the same class, 33/4 inches long and 23/4 inches wide, also from Seamer Moor. A third specimen, rather smaller, was found in a barrow at Uncleby, Yorkshire. One of greenstone, 21/2 inches long, and nearly triangular in outline, was found near Keswick, and is in the Blackmore Museum. A longer adze of greenstone, considerably curved in the blade, lay in company with various implements of flint in some sand-beds near York.[13] In the Mayer Collection at Liverpool is a celt of clay-slate, 4 inches long and ground at the edge, found at Toxteth. In the collection of the late Mr. J. F. Lucas, of Fenny Bentley Hall, near Ashbourne, were two celts (51/2 and 7 inches) of the same type as Fig. 35, but more adze-like in character, and formed of felstone. They were found on Middleton Moor, and at Wormhill, near Buxton, Derbyshire.

In my own collection, is a greenstone celt with the sides sharp and nearly parallel, 71/2 inches long and nearly 3 inches broad, with a semi-circular edge partly ground, found at Shrub Hill, Feltwell, Norfolk.

I have also a large specimen in form more resembling Fig. 23, six inches long. It is ground at the edge, which is nearly semicircular, and along the sides. It was found at Thurston, Suffolk, and is formed of a piece of tough mica-schist, with garnets[14] in it, a material, no doubt, derived from the Glacial beds of that district. Another from Troston, in the same neighbourhood, is formed from a rough fragment of micaceous grit ground to an edge at one end. In Scotland some wedge-shaped blades of granite, exhibiting traces of a very small amount of artificial adaptation, have been found. Two such, from Aberdeenshire, described as axes, have been figured.[15] The small stone celts found in Orkney,[16] though tolerably sharp at the edge, are described as- rough on the sides.

Turning to foreign countries, the discovery of flint instruments of this class, ground at the edge only, or on some small portions of their surface, is, as has already been observed, not uncommon in France and Belgium. In Denmark they are also very abundant, but the most common Danish form with a thick rectangular section does not appear to occur in Britain. Among the North American stone hatchets, many present this feature of being ground at the edge only, and the same is the case with some of the tools of the native Australians, such as that engraved in Fig. 105. A rough celt from Borneo, ground at the edge only, has been engraved by General Pitt Rivers.[17] The type also occurs in India and Japan.

In all European countries instruments of this form and character, but made of other materials than flint, are, like those entirely unground, of very rare occurrence. This rarity may arise from two causes, the one, that the tools or weapons made of these materials have not so sharp a cutting edge produced by chipping only as those formed of flint; and the second, that being usually somewhat softer than flint it required less time and trouble to grind them all over.

None of the rough celts, nor those ground at the edge only, seem so well adapted for use as hand-tools without a haft, as do some of those which are polished all over. Looking, however, at some of the rough Australian tools which are hafted with gum in a piece of skin, and thus used in the hand, it is hardly safe to express a decided opinion. The majority were, notwithstanding, in all probability, mounted with shafts after the manner of axes or adzes.

  1. Arch., vol. xv., pl. iv. 1. Hoare's "South Wiltshire," pl. v. 1. "Cat. Devizes Mus.," No. 9b.
  2. Arch. Assoc. Jour., vol. xxxvii., 1881, p. 214.
  3. Arch. Jour., vol. xxxi., pp. 296, 301.
  4. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. xiv., p. 265 ; xxiv., p. 6.
  5. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. ix., p. 258.
  6. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. xi., p. 24.
  7. "Vest. Ant. Derb.," p. 43. Cat., p. 31.
  8. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. vi., p. 178
  9. See Cambridge Antiq. Comms., vol. ii., 285, where there is a woodcut of the skull, and Geol. Mag., Dec. II., vol. i, p. 494.
  10. Journ. Ethnol. Soc., 1869, vol. ii.,pl. xv., fig. 11.
  11. Proc. Soc. Ant., Scot., vol. xiv., p. 265.
  12. Proc. Soc. Ant., 2nd S., vol. iii. p. 406.
  13. Journ. Ethnol. Soc., 1869, vol. ii., fig. 7.
  14. A large celt formed of "indurated clay-stone with garnets," is mentioned by Mr. F. C. Lukis, F.S.A., as having been found in the Channel Islands (Arch. Assoc. Journ., vol. iii. 128).
  15. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. vii. p. 101.
  16. P. S. A. S., vol. vii. 213.
  17. Proc. Ethnol. Soc., 1870, p. xxxix.