The Ancient Stone Implements, Weapons, and Ornaments of Great Britain/Chapter 7



I now come to several forms of implements which, though approximating closely to those to which the name of celts has been applied, may perhaps be regarded with some degree of certainty as forming a separate class of tools. Among these, the long narrow form to which, for want of a better name, that of "Picks" has been given, may be first described. It is, however, hard to draw a line between them and chisels.
Fig. 107.—Great Easton.

An idea of the prevailing form will be gathered from Fig. 107, which represents a specimen in my own collection found at Great Easton, near Dunmow, Essex, and given me by Colonel A. J. Copeland, F.S.A. Its surfaces are partially ground, especially towards the upper end, which appears to have been pointed, though now somewhat broken. The lower end is chipped to a rounded outline, but this end is not ground, and the outer or more convex face of the implement, in one part shows the original crust of the flint.

In the Fitch Collection is a finer and more symmetrical specimen of the same kind from North Walsham. It is 71/2 inches long, rather more than 1 inch wide, and 7/8 inch thick. It is polished nearly all over, both faces are ridged, so that it is almost rhomboidal in section, though the angles are rounded; one face is curved lengthways much more than the other, which is nearly straight. At one end it is ground to a semicircular edge, but at the other it is merely chipped, and still shows part of the original crust of the flint. Another implement of this character, but 111/2 inches long, and 27/8 inches wide in the broadest part, was found at Melbourn,[1] Cambridgeshire, and was in the collection of the late Lord Braybrooke.

I have seen another nearly 6 inches long, but little polished, and almost oval in section, which was found at Melton, near Woodbridge, Suffolk. This also is blunt at one end, and ground to a semicircular edge at the other. A fragment of a tool of this class, found near Maidenhead, is in the Geological Museum in Jermyn Street. Another, more roughly chipped out and but partially polished, was found on Mount Harry, near Lewes, and is preserved in the Museum in that town. It is narrow at one end, where it is ground to a sharp edge.

The late Mr. H. Durden, of Blandford, had another, found on Iwerne Minster Down, Dorset, 51/2 inches long and 11/4 inches broad, more celt-like in type. One face is more convex than the other; the sides are sharp, and one end is squarer than the other, which comes to a rounded point.

Fig. 108.—Bury St. Edmunds. 1/2

In my own collection is one of oval section (5 inches), polished nearly all over, from Burwell Fen, Cambridge; another (45/8 inches), much polished on the surface, is from the Thames at Twickenham. A third, from Quy Fen, Cambridge (47/8 inches), is rather broader in its proportions, and of pointed oval section. A fourth, from Bottisham Fen (43/4 inches), has a narrow segmental edge, and is rounded at the butt, where it is slightly battered. These may perhaps be regarded as chisels.

In the Greenwell Collection is what appears to be a fragment of a chisel, still about 4 inches long, found at Northdale, Bridlington. The same form of implement is found in France. I have a fragment of one which was found by M. Dimpre, of Abbeville, in the old encampment known as the Camp de César, near Pontrémy.

In the case of some very similar implements of flint from Scandinavia it is the broad end that is usually sharp, though some are entirely unground.

Occasionally these implements occur in this country in the same unpolished condition, like Fig. 108, from the neighbourhood of Bury St. Edmunds. This also presents on the more highly ridged face the same curvature in the direction of its length as is to be observed on the polished specimens, and the pointed end seems the sharper and the better adapted for use.

I have a fine unground specimen (6 inches) from Feltwell, Norfolk, and another (41/2 inches) from Chart Farm, Ightham, Kent, given to me by Mr. B. Harrison.

Unfortunately there are no indications by which to judge of the method of hafting such instruments. It appears probable, however, that the broader end may have been attached at the end of a handle, like those in Fig. 104, and that the tool was a sort of narrow adze or pick, adapted for working out cavities in wood, or it may be for grubbing in the ground. Some rough instruments of this character are found in Ireland,[2] but are usually more clumsy in their proportions than the English specimens that I have figured. They are often of a sub-triangular section, and pointed at one or both ends, though rarely ground. I have, however, a tapering pointed tool of black chert, and belonging to the same class of implements, found in Lough Neagh.[3] It appears adapted for boring holes in leather or other soft substances.

A very remarkable implement belonging to the same group is shown in Fig. 109. It was found in the Fen country near Burwell, Cambridge, and was given me by the late Mr. J. W. Flower, F.G.S. At the broad end it is much like the instruments just described. A portion of both faces has been polished, the sides have been rounded by grinding, and though it has been chipped to an edge at the broad end, this also has been rendered blunt in the same manner, possibly with

Fig. 109.—Burwell. Fig. 110.—Near Bridlington.

the view of preventing it from cutting the ligaments by which it was attached to a handle. The narrow end is ground to a chisel edge, which is at right angles to that of the broad end. In form and character this chisel end is exactly like that of a narrow "cold chisel" of steel, in use by engineers. Whether it was used as a narrow adze or axe, or after the manner of a chisel, it is difficult to say.

Fig. 110 is still more chisel-like in character. It is of flint weathered white, but stained in places by iron-mould, from having been brought in contact with modern agricultural implements, while lying on the surface of the ground. It was found at Charleston, near Bridlington. It is unground except at the edge, where it is very sharp, and at one or two places along the sides, where slight projections have been removed or rounded off by grinding. The butt-end is truncated, but is not at all battered, so that if a hammer or mallet was used with it, without the intervention of a socket or handle, it was probably of wood. I have another specimen of rather smaller size from the same locality. It is, however, of porphyritic greenstone, and the butt-end, instead of being truncated, has been chipped to a comparatively sharp edge, which has subsequently been partially rounded by grinding. If used as a chisel at all, this implement must have been inserted in a socket.

Mr. H. Durden had a chisel of the same character found at Hod Hill, Dorset, 51/2 inches long, and 13/8 inches broad, with the sides ground straight.

The Greenwell Collection contains a flint chisel of this form 5 inches long and 1/2 inch broad, found near Icklingham, Suffolk. It is ground at the sides as well as at the edge. Another, 43/4 inches long, in the same collection, was found at North Stow, Suffolk. There is also a small chisel of hone-stone, 27/8 inches long, found at Rudstone, near Bridlington, and another 33/4 inches long, of subquadrate section, found in a barrow at Cowlam,[4] Yorkshire.

Fig. 111.—Dalton, Yorkshire. 1/2

The form occurs in France. A beautiful chisel (7 inches), polished all over, and brought to a narrow edge at either end, was found in the Camp de Catenoy (Oise).[5] It is nearly round in section. Another, of dark jade-like material (4 inches), polished all over, was obtained from a dolmen at Pornic[6] (Loire Inférieure).

There are occasionally found some small chisels apparently intended for holding in the hand, as if for carving wood. One of these, from Dalton, on the Yorkshire Wolds, and in the collection of Messrs. Mortimer, is shown in Fig. 111. It is of grey flint, slightly curved longitudinally, nearly semicircular in section, with the side angles rounded, the butt truncated, but all its sharp angles worn or ground away, and with a circular edge slightly gouge-like in character. It has been ground transversely or obliquely on both faces, but the striæ from the grinding are at the edge longitudinal. I have a nearly similar tool from West Stow, Suffolk (51/4 inches), and one from the neighbourhood of Bridlington, Yorkshire, but the butt-end is broken.

Another flint chisel, from the same neighbourhood, 31/2 inches long and 7/8 inch wide, in my collection, presents the peculiarity of having the butt-end ground to a sharp narrow semicircular edge, the principal edge at the other end being broader and less curved. There can be little doubt of this having been merely a hand tool. A portion of the edge at the narrow end is worn away as if by scraping bone or something equally hard. This wearing away does not extend to the end of the tool. Another specimen from Yorkshire is in the Blackmore Museum.[7]

Fig. 112.—Helperthorpe. 1/2
A chisel from Suffolk,[8] ground at both ends, has been figured.

The implement shown in Fig. 112 appears to belong to this same class of tools, though closely resembling some of those which will hereafter be described as "arrow-flakers," from which it differs only in not showing any signs of being worn away at the ends. It is of flint neatly chipped, and was found at Helperthorpe, Yorkshire. I have another of the same form, but a trifle longer, found by Mr. W. Whitaker, F.R.S., near Baldock, Herts. Neither of them shows any traces of grinding.

A similar chisel of flint, square at the edge, and found near Londinières[9] (Seine Inférieure), is engraved by the Abbé Cochet.

Implements, which can without hesitation be classed as chisels, are rare in Ireland, though long narrow celts approximating to the chisel form are not uncommon. These are usually of clay-slate, or of some metamorphic rock. I have, however, specimens of oval section not more than an inch wide, and as much as 5 inches long, with narrow straight edges, which seem to be undoubtedly chisels. I do not remember to have seen a specimen in flint, those described by Sir W. Wilde[10] being more celt-like in character.

Narrow chisels, occasionally 10 and 12 inches long, and usually square in section, and either polished all over or merely ground at the edge, are of common occurrence in Denmark and Sweden.[11] They are sometimes, but more rarely, oval in section.

In Germany and Switzerland the form is scarce, but one from the Sigmaringen district is engraved by Lindenschmit,[12] and a Swiss specimen, in serpentine, by Perrin.[13]

Some of the small celts found in the Swiss lakes appear to have been rather chisels than hatchets or adzes, as they were mounted in sockets[14] bored axially in hafts of stag's horn. In some instances the hole was bored transversely through the piece of horn, but even then, the tools are so small that they must have been used rather as knives or drawing chisels than as hatchets. Chisels made of bone are abundant in the Swiss Lake-settlements. They are also plentiful in some of the caverns in the French Pyrenees, which have been inhabited in Neolithic times. Several have also occurred in the Gibraltar caves.

Fig. 113.—New Zealand Chisel. 1/2

Among the Maories of New Zealand small hand-chisels of jade are used for carving wood and for other purposes. They are sometimes attached to their handles by a curiously intertwined cord,[15] and sometimes by a more simple binding. For the sketch of that shown in Fig. 113, I am indebted to the late Mr. Gay. The original is in the British Museum.[16] It will be observed that the end of the handle, which has been battered in use, is tied round with a strip of bark to prevent its splitting. The blade seems to rest against a shoulder in the handle, to which it is firmly bound by a cord of vegetable fibre. A stone chisel from S. E. Bolivia[17] is mounted in the same fashion, but the blade is shorter. The stone chisels in use in ancient times in Britain were, when hafted at all, probably mounted in a somewhat analogous manner.

Considering the great numbers of gouges or hollow chisels of flint which have been found in Denmark and Sweden, their extreme rarity in Britain is remarkable. It seems possible that the celts with an almost semi-circular edge, some of which, when the two faces of the blade are not equally convex, are of a gouge-like character, may have answered the same purpose as gouges. It is to be observed that this class of celts is scarce in Denmark, where gouges are abundant; but possibly the ancient inhabitants of that country may have been more of a canoe-forming race than those of Britain, so that, in consequence, implements for hollowing out the trunks of trees were in greater demand among them. The best-formed gouges discovered in England, have, so far as I am aware, been found in the Fen country, where it is probable that canoes would be in constant use.

Two such, found in Burwell Fen, are preserved in the Museum of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, one of which is shown in Fig. 114. The other is rather smaller, being 51/4 inches long and 17/8 inches broad. They are entirely unpolished, with the sides nearly straight and sharp, and one face more convex than the other. At the butt-end they are truncated, or show the natural crust of the flint. The cutting edge at the other end is approximately at right angles to the blade, and is chipped hollow, so that the edge is like that of a carpenter's gouge.

In Fig. 114a, is shown a fine gouge of white flint in my own collection. It was found in 1871 on the Westleton Walks, Suffolk, and was ceded to me by Mr. F. Spalding. It has been most skilfully and symmetrically chipped out, but both the surface and the edge are left entirely unground. What may be termed the front face is flatter than in the specimens last described. The cutting edge is more rounded.

Fig. 114—Burwell. 1/2 Fig. 114a.—Westleton Walks. 1/2

The next specimen, Fig. 115, is less decidedly gouge-like in character. It is of grey flint, and was in the collection of the late Mr. Caldecott, of Mead Street, having been found at Eastbourne, Sussex. The sides are sharp, but rounded towards the butt, which is also round. A large flake has been taken lengthways off the hollow face, and it may be mainly to this circumstance rather than to original design, that the gouge-like character of the implement is due.

Most of the Danish gouges have a rectangular section at the middle of the blade, and the butt-end is usually truncated, and sometimes shows marks of having been hammered, so that these implements were probably used without hafting and in conjunction with a mallet or hammer of wood or stag's horn. Another and rarer form of gouge with a sharp elliptical section, tapers to the butt, and may have been used for paring away charred surfaces without the aid of a mallét. Some small examples of this class show, however, polished markings, as if from having been inserted in handles.

Under the head of gouges I must comprise a few of those celt-like implements already mentioned, which, without being actually ground hollow, yet, by having one of their faces much flatter transversely than the other, present at the edge a gouge-like appearance, somewhat after the manner of the "round-nosed chisels" of engineers. One of these was discovered in a barrow on Willerby Wold,[18] Yorkshire, by Canon Greenwell, F.R.S., though it was not associated with any burial.

Fig. 115.—Eastbourne. 1/2

It is shown in Fig. 116, and is formed of a light green hone-stone, carefully ground and even polished, and presents a beautifully regular and sharp cutting edge. It would appear to have been intended for mounting as a hollow adze rather than as a gouge, and would when thus mounted have formed a useful tool for hollowing canoes, or for other similar purposes.

In the Greenwell Collection is also another implement of the same character and material, but smaller, being 4 inches long and 23/8 inches broad. It was found at Ganthorpe, Yorkshire. The sides in this case are flat.

The implement shown in Fig. 117 has, when the convex face is seen, much the same appearance as Fig. 68. The other face, however, is slightly hollowed towards the middle longitudinally, and is nearly flat transversely, so that the edge presents a gouge-like appearance. It was found at Huntow, near Bridlington, and is in my own collection. The material is greenstone, the surface of which is somewhat decomposed, and seems in places to have been scratched by the plough or the harrow.

Fig. 116.—Willerby Wold. 1/2 Fig. 117.—Bridlington. 1/2

A considerable number of gouges of this bastard kind have been found in Ireland, and I have figured one from Lough Neagh.[19] A few of the Irish celts are actually hollowed at the edge, so as to become more truly gouge-like in character.

Besides occurring in abundance in Scandinavia, gouges, properly so called, are also found in Northern Germany and Lithuania. They also occur in Russia,[20] Finland, and Western Siberia, and even in Japan and Cambodia.

One of flint, 5 inches long, from the neighbourbood of Beauvais (Oise), is in the Blackmore Museum. The same form has also been found in Portugal[21] and Algeria.[22]

A stone implement,[23] "a square chisel at one end and a gouge at the other," was found in one of the Gibraltar caves.

In North America,[24] including Canada and Newfoundland, gouges formed of other varieties of stone than flint are by no means uncommon, and among the Caribs of Barbados, where stone was not to be procured, we find gouge-like instruments formed from the columella of the large Strombus gigas. On the western coast of North America, mussel-shell adzes are still preferred by the Ahts[25] to the best English chisels, for canoe-making purposes.

Some narrow bastard gouges, almost semicircular on one face and flat transversely on the other, but not hollowed, have been found in the Swiss Lake-settlements. I have one of diorite, 53/4 inches long and 1 inch broad, from Sipplingen. The butt is roughened as if for insertion in a socket. A similar form is found in Germany. I have a specimen 91/2 inches long found in the neighbourhood of Mainz.

A bastard form of gouge, mounted as an adze, is in use in the Solomon Islands. One tied to its haft with rattan is in the Christy Collection.

  1. Arch. Journ., vol. xvii. p. 170.
  2. Wilde, "Cat. Mus. R.I.A.," p. 27.
  3. Archæologia, vol. xli. p. 402, pl. xviii. 7.
  4. "Brit. Barrows," pp. 225, 396.
  5. "Le Camp de Catenoy," N. Ponthieux, Beauvais, 1872, pl. v. i.
  6. Parenteau; "Invent. Archéol.," 1878, pl. i. 2.
  7. "Flint Chips," p. 76.
  8. Proc. Suff. Inst. Arch., vol. vii. p. 209.
  9. "Seine Inf.," 2nd ed., p. 528.
  10. "Cat. Mus. R.I.A.," p. 27.
  11. Worsaae, "Nord. Olds." Nos. 20, 22; Nilsson, "Stone Age," pl. vi. 127.
  12. "Hohenz. Samml.," Taf. xliii. 5.
  13. "Etude Préhist. sur la Savoie," 1869, pl. ii. 4.
  14. Desor, "Palafittes," p. 23, fig. 19.
  15. Wood, "Nat. Hist. of Man," vol. ii. p. 201.
  16. Nilsson, "Stone Age," pl. vi. 129, p. 54.
  17. Int. Arch. f. Ethn., vol. ii. p. 273.
  18. "Brit. Barrows," p. 181.
  19. Arch., vol. xli. pl. xviii. 10.
  20. Mém. Soc. R. des Ant. du Nord, 1872–77, p. 105. Zeitseh. f. Eth. vol, xix. p. 413.
  21. Cartailhac, "Ages préh. de l'Esp. et du Port.," p. 91.
  22. Trans. Ethn. Soc., N. S., vol. vii. p. 47.
  23. Trans. Preh. Cong., 1868, p. 130.
  24. Schoolcraft, "Indian Tribes," vol. iv. p. 175.
  25. Sproat, "Scenes and Studies of Savage Life,' p. 316.