History of Henry Wellcome's unique collection, £19.99
Length: 68.500 cm
Gift of Messrs Graham and Adrian Teal
P&EE 1986 10-26 1
Prehistory and Europe
Ahrensburgian, about 10,500 years old
From Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, England
Weapon or tool made from reindeer antler
This trimmed reindeer antler was found in a gravel pit by the River Nene. It is one of a small number of finds which links Britain to Europe at the very end of the last Ice Age, or Late Glacial period. At this time, although the climate was getting warmer, sea levels were still low because much water was still frozen up in sea ice further north. Thus dry land still linked Britain to Europe. Worked axe-like reindeer antlers are characteristic artefacts of this period in Denmark, the Netherlands and northern Germany. They are called Lyngby axes after a Danish findspot. The discovery of this particularly large example in Earls Barton shows that hunter-gatherers of this Ahrensburgian period also spread across the land bridge to England. They were possibly following reindeer herds, which were their main source of food and materials.
The 'axe' was made by cutting off the top of the antler, and several of the tines. The beam of the antler then served as the axe shaft or handle with one of the tines as the blade. We can not be certain how the object was used. It would have been an effective weapon used as a club perhaps with a flint blade fixed into the tine socket. However, this does not explain the smooth polished tine blade edge, which suggests that it might have been used as a tool on a soft material.
J. Cook and R. Jacobi, 'A reindeer antler or 'Lyngby' axe from Northamptonshire and its context in the British Late Glacial', Proceedings of the Prehistor-8 (1994), pp. 75-84