Irish Flanged Axes

Flanged axe found near Castledermot, Co. Kildare.

The flanged axe is a distinctive Bronze Age form, introduced at the end of the Early Bronze Age that represented an attempt to improve the hafting mechanism of the axe head by creating a longitudinal flange combined with a latitudinal ridge to prevent the axe head from moving around on the haft while in use. With the flanged axe the flanges extend beyond the stop-ridge and curve back into the sides of the axe. Actually the use of low flanges and stop-ridges had already appeared on the earlier Derryniggin type axes about 1700-1600 BC. Another approach is represented by the palstave axes, where the flanges and stop-ridge were cast as a single unit. The palstaves appear to represent a parallel approach to improving the axe haft and may have been a later development that came into use alongside the flanged axe, though much smaller numbers are known from Ireland.

There are about 700 flanged axes known from Ireland. They take a variety of forms. Most have the characteristic crescent-shaped blade. Some have low flanges that are convex in section and others have high angled flanges. In some cases the high flanges were bent inwards to grasp the haft and these are called wing-flanged axes. Some examples have loops which acted as an additional fixing point to attach the axe head to the haft. Some of the flanged axes have decoration on the blades and flanges.

No Irish flanged axe has ever been found in association so dating them is difficult. A matrix for a looped flanged axe occurs on a stone mould from Lough Scur, Co. Leitrim along with the matrices for two flat, thin butted axes. The mould doesn’t date the flanged axe as the matrix could have been a later addition to an old mould but it does suggest that flanged axes could have developed during the Early Bronze Age. The flanged axes probably appeared while the Derryniggin axes were still in production before 1600 BC and superseded that type. No flanged axes have been found in Late Bronze Age hoards so they appear to have gone out of use by 1200 BC.

Further reading

Greer Ramsey 1995. Middle Bronze Age Metalwork: Are Artefact Studies Dead and Buried? In J. Waddell and E. Shee Twohig, Ireland in the Bronze Age. Dublin.

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is based on research he is preparing for a book entitles Ireland in the Bronze Age. You can read more of Dr. Mount’s publications here .

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. Irish Flanged Axes. The Charles Mount Blog, November 10, 2011. http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=646

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2 Responses to Irish Flanged Axes

  1. Roger Werner says:

    Charles,

    I’m curious how you think the Irish axes compare functionally, stylistically, and temporally to flanged axes with those found in GB and Brittany from the Late Early Bronze Age contexts. Do you think Irish flanged axes are a home grown manifestation or might they represent imports from GB or Brittany? From what you’ve written, the presence of a mold from Lough Scur suggests the former. Do you think Irish axes were used or unused weapons, status symbols, or, were might they have been used as a form of primitive currency like some of the axes found in Brittany?

    You indicate the depicted ax is possibly from the Late Early Bronze Age. That would presumably place it post-Bell Beaker…or perhaps at the very tail end of that cultural expression. I was looking through the UK Detector Finds Database and found this interesting item from North Yorkshire: http://www.ukdfd.co.uk/ukdfddata/showrecords.php?product=5734&cat=228

    From a simple comparison of the photographs there are some basic similarities. I wonder how the two compare with respect to weight and size? The age of the Yorkshire find fits Late Early Bronze Age in Ireland. There are only 12 flanged axes in the UK Detector Finds database and it’s the only ax reasonably comparable to the item you discuss.

    Just curious but have you seen this material?

    http://www.eupedia.com/europe/origins_haplogroups_europe.shtml#R1b

    The study of migrations is an important aspect of California prehistory in that the state was home of more than 200 distinct linguistic families, some are associated with languages thousands of miles away. Relic languages is another topic of interest in California. I must have spent a couple of hours reading the genetic interpretations. I don’t know enough about European prehistory to make an educated evaluation for the complete accuracy of the claims from this web page. The distribution of the Rib type in Ireland might be of interest to you as it relates to the spread of Bronze Age cultures from the east…perhaps not and if so simply discard!

    Cheers!

  2. Roger, thanks for your comment. The problem with the Irish flanged axes, and probably why no one has published a corpus on them, is that they have no associations. So it is not possible to say exactly when they came into use in Ireland and if they are earlier, contemporary with or later than examples in Britain and in continental Europe. Flanged axes would have had multiple uses. Certainly they were tools and were probably used in the construction of houses and trackways. They could could have functioned as weapons if the need arose and could also have served as primitive money. The fact that they are not found on contemporary settlements, unlike pottery and lithics, appears to be significant and suggests that they had a certain prestige/display value.

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