Prehistoric mysteries

While it’s commonly assumed that the experts who work in museums and universities know absolutely everything, this (unfortunately!) is not always the case.  While researching some of the objects that we want to profile in the Cutting Edge project, a few have had our prehistory team stumped.  Some discussion has focussed on an object’s identification (is it a knife or a sickle?) but occasionally a debate has broken out over an object’s provenance.  The provenance of an object is important as this tells us where an object was found and so provides vital context.

The background of one particular object however has generated some serious debate…..

This is a stone axehead, and it’s currently on display in the Great North Museum: Hancock, in the “Ice Age to Iron Age” gallery.  As far as we know, it was found in Gateshead.  According to the person who donated the object, it was discovered during the early 1970s.  As the story goes, it transpires that a factory workman unearthed it while digging a pit in preparation for concrete foundations to be laid in order to install heavy machinery.  The axehead was found at a depth of about 3 metres…very near a human skull.

Whatever happened to the human remains is another tale completely.  The axehead eventually found its way into our collections thanks to a generous donor, and that should have been the end of the story.

It wasn’t.

By the mid 1990s after some examinations, theories began to emerge that the axehead may have had its origins not in Gateshead, but in PolynesiaThis speculation has garnered serious debate, and an article on the subject was written by J. Pollard in 1998 for Archaeologia Aeliana*, the journal of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne (SANT). 

The puzzle of how a Polynesian axe could be found in the northeast of England as part of a presumed prehistoric burial site can not be solved by this blogger!  However, it is fervently hoped that with the creation of the Cutting Edge project other interested enthusiasts both professional and amateur may be able to shed light on mysteries such as these. 

* J. Pollard, “Oddity, Import or Ethnographic Curiosity? A Stone Axe from Gateshead”, Archaeologia Aeliana, 5th Series, Vol XXVI, pg 165-6


Prehistory on a global scale

 While Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums have fantastic collections from the north east of England, we have accumulated over the years a vast assortment of artefacts from many continents.  Here are just a few of the items that have been discovered worldwide and will be showcased in the Cutting Edge.



Hidden beauty

One of the main aims of the Cutting Edge project is to provide scholars and interested individuals access to data relating to prehistoric objects from our collections.  This project has allowed me to not only analyse the fantastic objects that are permanently on display in the Great North Museum: Hancock, but also have a look through the vast collections we keep stored away.  These hidden collections are not often seen by the public and so our team have been determined to include as many of these objects as possible within the project.  As an archaeologist, I naturally think that all of our objects are interesting, but occasionally during my searches I have uncovered some truly beautiful objects.  This is one of my favourites:

                         Jade adze blade               Laing Art Gallery, TWCMS : H6501 

 An adze is a tool used for smoothing or carving out wood and is among the earliest type of stone tool identified in the archaeological record.  This adze has been made out of jade.  It’s highly polished and the colours within the stone are beautiful- vibrant shades of green with creamy brown streaks and swirls.

 While prehistoric archaeology may initially conjure up the image of piles of flintwork, this project has uncovered some hidden gems that aren’t normally seen by many people.  The Cutting Edge will make sure a much wider audience can appreciate these fantastic objects.