Scotland's set of 6,000-year-old axeheads from the Italian Alps have gone on public display

By Culture24 Reporter | 24 June 2016

Made out of alpine rock and extracted near prehistoric Turin and Genoa, Scotland's jade axeheads have come out of storage - along with a new sculpture

A photo of a man holding a jade axehead made by neolithic people at National Museum Scotland
Artist Tim Pomeroy with his sculpture, Axehead, and the remarkable Greenlaw axehead that inspired him© Phil Wilkinson
Scotland’s national collection of Stone Age jade axeheads are rarely seen in public. Farming groups created them in the Italian Alps more than 6,000 years ago, using exquisite skill and transporting them to Scotland from northern France.

A photo of a man holding a jade axehead made by neolithic people at National Museum Scotland
This Neolithic axe, made of polished stone, was found near Greenlaw in the 19th century© National Museums Scotland
Now Tim Pomeroy, an artist and stone carver based on the Isle of Arran, has made Axehead, a new stone sculpture designed to reflect the power, status and purpose of the ceremonial works.

A photo of a man holding a jade axehead made by neolithic people at National Museum Scotland
© Tim Pomeroy
“These axeheads are works of both immense skill and of a highly developed, visual, manual and spiritual sophistication,” he says.

A photo of a man holding a jade axehead made by neolithic people at National Museum Scotland
© National Museums Scotland
“As an artist, I am inspired by these qualities. I have always been interested in notions of utility, the Sacred, and power and how these properties combine within the contexts of art and ritual.”

A photo of a man holding a jade axehead made by neolithic people at National Museum Scotland
Dr Alison Sheridan, Principal Curator of Early Prehistory in the Department of Scottish History and Archaeology, takes a look at a selection of the axeheads
They were valued beyond robust functionality. Neolithic people are thought to have linked mountains with the realm of gods, giving the pieces divine powers to protect and heal.

A photo of a man holding a jade axehead made by neolithic people at National Museum Scotland
The Greenlaw beauty dates from 3800-3000 BC© National Museums Scotland
Tellingly, the two found in the Glenjorie Burn area may have been left there when the Dumfries and Galloway site was a loch. Other axeheads across the world have been found in water-covered locations, possibly suggesting that their carriers believed they were returning them to the gods.


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Three prehistoric sites to see in Scotland

Cairnpapple Hill, West Lothian
One of the most important prehistoric monuments on the mainland of Scotland, Cairnpapple was used as a burial and ceremonial site from about 3000 to 1400 BC.

Maeshowe Chambered Cairn, Orkney
The finest megalithic tomb in the British Isles, with a large mound covering a stone-built passage and a large burial chamber with cells in the walls. Of Neolithic date, broken into in Viking times by people who carved extensive runic inscriptions on the walls.

Stones of Stenness Circle and Henge
Standing at a maximum height of six metres (around 19 feet), the sheer scale of the megaliths that make up the Stones o' Stenness make the monument visible for miles around. Located by the south-eastern shore of the Loch o'Stenness, only four of the ring's stones remain. These are considerably larger than those found in the nearby Ring o' Brodgar, approximately a mile to the north-west.
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Dear Culture24 Reporter: I am the curator of the 'Stone Age Jade' exhibition and can confirm that almost all of the Alpine axeheads that are in the exhibition are normally on display elsewhere in the National Museum of Scotland, in the Early People gallery, where they have been on display since that part of the museum opened in 1989. Before that, they were on display in our old premises in Queen Street. Folks should come along and see what other treasures we have on permanent display.
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