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axe

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    1988,1202.1

  • Description

    Copper alloy flanged axe; cast, decorated.

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1700BC-1500BC
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 172 millimetres
    • Width: 99 millimetres
    • Thickness: 25.5 millimetres
    • Weight: 744 grammes
  • Curator's comments

    Needham et al 1985
    Description of site: Site on chalk downland, on the 'brow' of ridge called Arreton Down in the manor of Haseley (now Heasley), the parish of Arreton. Found in a marlpit, probably one of a series of old pits strung out along southern crest of east-west aligned ridge between SZ 540870 and SZ 548870 between circa 70 and 100m OD. Site described as “about two hundred yards from the front of a retrenchment, which I take to be Roman....” (Cooke, B., 1737. Letter to Peter Collinson, dated 1 Jan 1736/7, Society of Antiquaries Minutes, vol. II, p.285 and British Library, Egerton Ms 1041, f.165a.); the 'retrenchment' is not now discernible (Sherwin, G.A., 1936. Arreton Down bronze hoard, ‘Proc.Isle of Wight Natural History & Arch. Soc.’ 2 pt.7, 612-3.).

    Circumstances: Discovered sometime shortly before 11 December 1735, when first brought to the notice of the Society of Antiquaries of London (Minutes vol. II, 1732-7, p. 128-9). Account of discovery given by a Mr Benjamin Cooke of Newport, Isle of Wight, in a letter to his cousin Mr Peter Collinson dated 1 January 1736/7 (Cooke 1737):
    “They were deposited on a hill about the middle of this island, called Arreton Down, in the parish of Arreton, in the Manor of Haseley, on the estate of Richard Flemming Esq. A Farmer who was widening a marle pitt found these instruments ranged in a regular order, the axes laid on the spearheads, about a foot deep on the brow of a hill in a marley soil....”
    Another form of this account appears in a letter from P. Collinson to H. Sloane, dated 20 April 1737 (Collinson, P., 1737. Letter to Hans Sloane, dated 20 April, 1737, British Library, Sloane Ms 4055, f.98), which adds “....about a foot deep (which is the thickness with which the marle on this Hill is generally covered)....”
    By March 1737 sixteen bronzes from the site had been displayed at the Antiquaries. Ten were drawn at life size for the minutes by Mr Charles Frederick (Piggott, S., 1947. The Arreton Down Bronze Age hoard, ‘Antiq.J.’ 27, 177-8).

    Contextual information: la/O

    Descriptions and comparisons: Bronze in fine condition without damaging corrosion; surfaces of dull to bright golden colour, overlain to variable extent by thin finely textured patina of green to brown; localised encrustation of marly soil.

    Dating and interpretation of grave group: Type-hoard for Britton's Arreton tradition (Britton, D., 1963. Traditions of metal-working in the Later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age of Britain: Part 1, ‘Proc.Preh.Soc.’ 29, 284-293) and for Burgess' stage VII metalworking (Burgess, C.B., 1980. ‘The Age of Stonehenge’. London, 122-6), circa 1650-1400 BC. One of a series of hoards termed Metalwork Assemblage VI (MA VI) in Needham's scheme for southern Britain (Needham, S.P., 1983. The Early Bronze Age axe-heads of central and southern England. Unpublished PhD, University College, Cardiff, 300-306) and regarded as belonging to a middle stage in the development of that assemblage. On this basis datable to around 1500 BC.
    The Arreton Down hoard shows, along with others of its type, a combination of metalwork types rarely seen in hoard deposits from the preceding Metalwork Assemblages. The type composition appears not to be random and may be determined by selection processes. Arreton Down belongs to a sub-set of MA VI hoards which are dominated by spearheads. This patterning in the hoard record in conjunction with the ordered laying out of the Arreton bronzes in the ground points to their deposition as a votive act.
    Metal analysis of the thirteen extant Arreton bronzes gives a consistent impurity pattern for most of the hoard with medium arsenic levels (0.17 - 1.0%) and low-medium antimony (0.03 - 0.30%), silver (0.03 - 0.20%) and nickel (0.03 - 0.50%). This is typical of the final Early Bronze Age with nickel levels generally higher than earlier. One Arreton object is made of impurity-free metal (1908,0514.1) and one is intermediate (Manchester University Museum 0.8664). Tin percentages vary between 10.4 and 17.2% with an average of 13.7%, which is typical of the period.
    Remarks: The possibility of a seventeenth bronze, a socketed spearhead, stems from an early illustration in Lort 1779 (Lort, Rev., 1779. Observations on Celts, ‘Archaeologia’ 5, 114, pl.8 fig.27). This was re-illustrated by Britton (1963, 288 fig. 19 far right) but almost certainly never existed. It is probable that the drawing in question is a very poor depiction of a tanged spearhead based on one of the drawings in the Society of Antiquaries Minutes. It should be noted that Lort also illustrated an axe from the hoard (1779, pl.8 fig.5), presumably one of the flanged axes, yet it appears to be flat. Franks dismissed these as unrecognisable depictions (Franks, A.W., 1855. Notes on bronze weapons found on Arreton Down, Isle of Wight, ‘Archaeologia’ 36, 327 footnote c). There is furthermore no evidence that Lort had come across two objects from the hoard which had escaped all notice at the time of discovery, forty years earlier.
    The identification of the Manchester Museum spearhead, which was unprovenanced in that collection, as an Arreton piece rests on its close comparison in form, size and edge irregularities to one drawn by Charles Frederick (Society of Antiquaries, Minutes vol. II, 1732-7, 111 centre). Acceptance of this identification means that the important separate collar went missing between 1736 and 1953.
    In addition to the Manchester spearhead, four other Arreton bronzes had lost their true provenance, in each case having acquired a false provenance. Re-identification was again possible using Charles Frederick's marvellous drawings; indeed Greenwell set a precedent by re-identifying the socketed spearhead (WG 2074) (‘Proc.Soc.Antiq.Lond.’ 2nd ser., V, 1870-3, 427). The false provenances all lay in Suffolk, close to Ipswich: 1856,0627.43-44 -Hintlesham, 1908,0514.1 - Sproughton, 1985,0302.1 - Martlesham. It may be conjectured that these were applied by a dealer in the Ipswich locality prior to 1856 (when 1856,0627.43-44 were acquired by the British Museum) having passed out of the Collinson family around 1834 when Peter Collinson's grandson Charles Collinson died, the last of the line, at Chantry, near Ipswich.

    Comparisons to object: Arreton type (Britton, D., 1963. Traditions of metal-working in the Later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age of Britain: Part 1, ‘Proc.Preh.Soc.’ 29, 286); sub-class 5C (Needham 1983, 198-253 - variant 5Ca); West Drayton, Greater London (Megaw, B.R.S. and Hardy, E.M., 1938. British decorated axes and their diffusion during the earlier part of the Bronze Age, ‘Proc.Preh.Soc.’ 4, 300 no.56); Pilsdon (Stoke Abbott), Dorset (Piggott, S., 1938. The Early Bronze Age in Wessex, ‘Proc.Preh.Soc.’ 4, 88 fig. 19, 89); for decoration: Unprovenanced axes (Harbison, P., 1969a. ‘The Axes of the Early Bronze Age in Ireland’. PBF IX. 1, Munich, nos.1774, 1778 1787, 1848, 1865).

    More 

  • Bibliography

    • Needham et al 1985 No.6.13 bibliographic details
    • Needham 1986 p.26, no.13 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1988

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number

    1988,1202.1


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Object reference number: BCB54922

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