Rare Copper Age Axeheads Donated To Manx National Heritage

By Helen Kane | 19 September 2008
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  • Archived article
a photo of three men holding a display of three copper axeheads

Chairman of the Trustees of MNH, Mr Martin Moore (left), receives the axeheads from Mr Rob Middleton (centre) and Mr David Anderson MHK (right).

The determination of a keen metal detector has unearthed two extremely rare axeheads on the Isle of Man.

Rob Middleton found the rare Bronze Aged treasures whilst detecting on a large piece of land belonging to David Anderson in Patrick. They have now been donated to Manx National Heritage (MNH) for the national museum collections.

“I was very excited when I discovered them, as I’ve spent many years searching for Bronze Age material,” explained Rob. “They were discovered over a period of four months and spread over a large area of ground. Searching last winter was extremely difficult due to wet conditions but I’m glad my perseverance paid off!”

The find is particularly exciting as the axeheads date from the Copper Age or Chalcolithic, around c.2500 – 2150 BC, which is the exact point where metal was being adopted as the new, modern material to replace flint.

Copper and Bronze age artefacts are uncommon on the Isle of Man, and only 3 or 4 such early pieces have ever been found there. They contained traces of copper from Ireland and Wales which could also be the source of the copper in the newly-discovered axeheads.

However, the find might be more significant still as there is evidence to support the theory that copper deposits at Bradda Head and Langness on the island may have been mined in prehistory, meaning that these latest axeheads may be of truly Manx origin.

a photo of three copper axeheads

The copper axeheads and blade

“I’m pleased that artefacts of such importance have been discovered on our land,” said the landowner David Anderson. “Rob is very knowledgeable about what he finds, so when he brought the axeheads to show me, I had no doubt that he was correct in their identification.”

“I am pleased to donate the artefacts into the care of MNH and look forward to finding out even more about them from the research that can now be carried out,” he added.

Mr. Middleton’s experience of metal detecting and his understanding of the artefacts meant the axes were disturbed as little as possible once they were unearthed. The soil surrounding artefacts can often hold as much information as the objects themselves and acts as a protective layer for the surface of the object.

“When Mr. Middleton discovered the artefacts, he was very careful not to clean them, or even wipe the surface soil away, which was exactly the right thing to do,” explained MNH Curator Allison Fox.

“Due to his care, the possibilities for further research are good, enabling us to find out a little more about the point in time when the Isle of Man left the Stone Age and embraced the new technology of metal-working,” added Alison.

For his part Mr Middleton said he was thrilled his finds are making a contribution to the knowledge of Manx history. “On the Isle of Man, we’re lucky to have a good relationship with MNH as the national heritage agency, with regard to responsible metal detecting,” he explained. “Because of this good relationship, many important finds have been donated to the national collections in recent years.”

Further research will be carried out on the axeheads before they are permanently displayed in the Prehistoric Gallery at the Manx Museum, Douglas.

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