9th Experimental Archaeology Conference abstract – Gilhooly

A Study of Prehistoric Irish Shale and Porcellanite Axes/Adzes through Experimentation, Quantification and Comparative Analysis

Bernard Gilhooly

University College Dublin

This paper will discuss the methodological approaches currently being applied to the analysis of particular lithologies of prehistoric Irish axes/adzes and the range of skill sets developed to accomplish this. As part of an ongoing PHD research project, the method of manufacture and range of uses of Irish shale and porcellanite axes/adzes from the Mesolithic through to the Early Bronze Age, along with the influence of taphonomy on their final appearance in an archaeological context, is under investigation.

A number of experimental replicas have been manufactured, using both hard and soft hammer techniques. These reproductions are being utilised for a broad variety of tasks including, tree felling, coppicing, splitting and wedging, fine carpentry, butchery and as digging implements. Taphonomic processes, such as trampling by humans and animals, the effects of vehicles and ploughing and water rolling are also being replicated. In co-operation with the UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, a quantitative analysis of the mechanical properties of these lithologies is also underway. Here, the flexural and tensile strength, along with fracture toughness and hardness is being tested. The damage and/or characteristic features which develop on these replicas will then be compared with
archaeological examples from the National Museum of Ireland (NMI) to assist in determining which activity or activities the prehistoric examples may have been used for.

From this wide array of methodological approaches, new interpretations of the multidimensional aspects of these objects can be formulated; the interplay of ideas and actions, the importance of material selection and the properties of the material itself along with the multiple roles, both ritual and/or utilitarian, these objects took in Ireland from the Mesolithic to the Early Bronze Age.

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