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Jade Axes from Sites in the British Isles

  • W. Campbell Smith (a1)


Several years ago during the investigation of neolithic chambered tombs in Galloway a fragment of green jade polished on two opposite flat faces was found in the floor of the ante-chamber to Tomb I at Cairnholy in Kirkcudbrightshire. It was only about 3 centimetres square and 1.5 centimetres thick but, nevertheless, Professor Stuart Piggott and Mr T. G. E. Powell recognized that it had once formed part of a flat triangular axe of a type already known from several places in Scotland. A fine collection of such axes in jade existed in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in Edinburgh. In an appendix to their paper on the chambered tombs Piggott and Powell listed the jade axes recorded from British and Irish sites and republished the map compiled by Miss L. F. Chitty and published by Sir Cyril Fox in 1933. This appendix also contained brief notes supplied by me on thin microscope sections of the Cairnholy fragment and of five other British axes reported to be made in jade. Some of these identifications were only partly correct, and have now been revised (see below, pp. 145, 158, 159 and footnote 2, p. 153).

Some years later the question of the identification of the material of reputed British jade axes arose again and it was decided to examine as many of the axes in Piggott and Powell's list as could be borrowed and to utilize in their examination determinations of density and refractive index, and, where possible, to obtain X-ray powder photographs and to have thin sections prepared.



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paeg 133 note 1 Piggott, Stuart and Powell, T. G. E., ‘The Excavation of Three Neolithic Chambered Tombs in Galloway, 1949’, Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. 83 (1951), 19481949, p. 121, fig. 9(1), p. 122.

page 133 note 2 Op. cit., p. 153.

paeg 133 note 3 Fox, Cyril, ‘The Distribution of Man in East Anglia, c. 2300 B.C.–A.D. 50. A contribution to the prehistory of the region’, Proc. Prehist. Soc. E. Anglia, vol. 7 (1933), pl. v, fig. 6b.

page 133 note 4 It is fairly generally known that jade properly includes material consisting of two quite distinct minerals, nephrite and jadeite, and that the term is also on occasions wrongly applied to other minerals (or materials) which have a somewhat similar appearance. See Smith, G. F. Herbert, Gemstones (13th-edtn.), revised by F. C. Phillips, 1958, p. 431.

page 135 note 1 For a description of this widely used method see G. F. Herbert Smith, op. cit. supra, p. 67.

paeg 135 note 2 Third Report of the Sub-Committee of the South-Western Group of Museums … on the petrological identification of stone axes’, PPS, XVII (1951), pp. 99158.

page 136 note 1 Op. cit., p. 121.

page 137 note 1 Foshag, W. F., Mineralogical Studies in Guatemalan Jade. Smithsonian Misc. Coll., vol. 135 (1957), no. 5 p. 17.

page 137 note 2 The late Dr G. H. Francis, using the universal stage, found extinction angles: 24°, 31°, 47.5°. He found for the optic axial angle values of 73° and 760 and in a zoned crystal variation from 56° to 84.

page 138 note 1 Lacroix, A., ‘La Jadéite de Birmanie: …’, Bull. Soc. fr. Min., vol. 53 (1930), pp. 223–4.

page 138 note 2 Washington, H. S., ‘The Jades of Middle America’, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., vol. 8 (1922), p. 323.

page 138 note 3 W. F. Foshag, op. cit. supra, p. 19. For a greyish green chloromelanite with composition jadeite 77, diopside 11, acmite 12, Foshag gives X 1.674, Z 1.690.

page 138 note 4 Omori, K. in Yoder, H. S., ‘The Jadeite Problem’, Amer. J. Sci., vol 248 (1950), p. 241.

page 138 note 5 Hallock, N. in Bishop, Heber R., Investigations and Studies in Jade, vol. 1 (1906), p. 116. Hallock found the average density of 107 jadeites, including a few chloromelanites, to be 3.3202. H. S. Washington analysing Hallock's results further showed that the weighted averages were: for 70 jadeites 3.331, near the value for pure jadeite, and for 19 jadeites 3.252, slightly lower than for analysed diopside-jadeite. See Washington, H. S., ‘The Jade of the Tuxtla Statuette’, Proc. U.S. Nat. Mus., vol. 60 (1922), Art. 14, p. 8.

paeg 138 note 6 W. F. Foshag, op. cit., p. 16.

page 140 note 1 The low density of the Hill Head axe is due to the association with the pyroxene of small amounts of a mineral of low refractive index, probably quartz, of which the specific gravity is 2.66.

page 140 note 2 The axe from Stirling gave Z′ 1.682.

paeg 142 note 1 Evans, , ASI (1897), p. 127, fig. 71.

page 142 note 2 Crawford, O. G. S., ‘Prehistoric Trade between England and France’, L'Anthropologie, vol. 24 (1913), pp. 641–9.

page 142 note 3 Names of colours are given with reference to Ridgway, R., Color standards and color nomenclature (Washington, 1912).

paeg 144 note 1 The axe from Knebworth is in material similar to that of the Cairnholy fragment, and the Winterslow axe (42) is in jadeite of very pale grey colour comparable perhaps to that of the axe from Glencrutchery (27).

page 144 note 8 Thurnham, J., i.e. Thurnam, ‘On Ancient British Barrows, especially those of Wiltshire and the adjoining counties (Part II, Round Barrows)’, Archaeologia, XLIII (1871), pp. 405–6.

page 145 note 1 Wilson, Daniel, The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland (1851), p.35.

page 145 note 2 Evans, , ASI (1897), p. 129, fig. 75.

page 145 note 3 Piggott and Powell, op. cit., p. 154.

page 145 note 4 Brière, Y., ‘Les éclogites françaises—Leur composition minéralogique et chimique; leur origine’, Bull. Soc. fr. Min., vol. 43 (1920), pp. 91–3.

page 148 note 1 Piggott and Powell, op. cit., p. 139.

page 148 note 2 Piggott and Powell, op. cit., p. 137.

page 148 note 3 This leaves out of account the St. Levan, Bovey Tracey, and Broad Town axes, and the Scratchbury Camp axe all of which have been mentioned above, and also the axe from Tuckton near Bournemouth which is a recent import made in a hard volcanic tuff (see Appendix, D).

page 148 note 4 Piggott and Powell, op. cit., p. 139.

page 151 note 1 de Limur, M., ‘Sur l'existence du jade dans la baie de Roguéda [sic]., près Vannes’, Association française pour l'Avancemetit des Sciences. Compte rendu, 4e session, Nantes, 1875 (1876), p. 576. Title only.

page 151 note 2 Damour, A., ‘Sur la composition des haches en pierre trouvées dans les monuments celtiques et chez les tribus Sauvages’, C.R. Acad. Sci., vol. 61 (1865), p. 360.

page 151 note 3 Damour, A., ‘Note sur la composition d'une roche trouvée en gisement dans la Baie de Roguédas (Morbihan)‘, Bull. Soc. Polymathique du Morbihan (1876), pp. 128–30.

The comparison was unfortunate as ‘Jade océanien’ described by Damour in 1865 on the basis of a chemical analysis was only represented by three or four specimens, one from New Zealand and others from the Marquesas. The analysed specimen was one from New Zealand. It appeared to differ from the well-known New Zealand jade (nephrite); its density was 3.18 and its chemical composition was interpreted by Damour as that of a pyroxene. It is not clear what this material was. Dana (System of Mineralogy, 6th edition, 1892, p. 394) lists the analysis with Nephrite in spite of the high density. Damour's name is wrongly translated by Dana as ‘oceanic jade’, whereas Damour meant ‘jade from Oceania’.

page 151 note 4 de Limur, M., Bull. Soc. Polymath. Morbihan (1876), p. 131.

page 152 note 1 de Limur, M., The Archaeological Journal, vol. 44 (1887), p. 431, quoting from The Athenaeum, 20 Aug. and 3 Sept., 1887. See also Limur, M. de, ‘Composition des haches en pierre polie du Morbihan’, C.R. Soc. française d Archéologie (June, 1881).

page 152 note 2 Cross, C. Whitman, ‘Studien über bretonisch Gesteine’, Tchermak. Min. Petr. Mitth., vol. 3 (1881), for 1880, pp. 369410.

page 152 note 3 Barrois, Charles, ‘Les pyroxénites des îles du Morbihan’, Ann. Soc. Géol. Nord (1887), pp. 74 and 76, and footnote p. 70.

page 152 note 4 Op. cit., p. 222.

page 152 note 5 Lacroix, A., ‘Contribution à l'étude des gneiss à pyroxène et des roches à wernerite’, Bull. Soc. fr. Min., vol. 12 (1889), pp. 124–33. The rock is designated by Lacroix ‘gneiss pyroxénique’; it is pyroxene-granulite in English nomenclature.

paeg 152 note 6 Lacroix, A., Minéralogie de la France et de ses Colonies, vol. 1 (18931995), p. 605. He regarded the pyroxene analysed by Damour from an eclogite at Fay near Nantes as probably intermediate between omphacite and jadeite (op. cit., pp. 615–16).

page 152 note 7 M. de Limur in 1895 read another paper on jade before the Société Polymathique, of which he was then President. In this he discusses to some extent ‘Jade Océanien’ and he quotes at length Barrois on the replacement of pyroxene by amphibole and the generation of an actinolite rock by this process, and the close resemblance between this rock (in He d'Arz, Morbihan) and the nephrites of China and Siberia (Barrois, op. cit. (1887), p. 78).

page 152 note 8 Damour, A., ‘Note sur les roches de l'Ile d'Arz’, Bull. Soc. Polymath. Morbihan (1895), pp. 172–4.

page 152 note 9 Brière, Mlle. Y., ‘Les eclogites françaises—Leur composition minéralogique et chimique; leur origine’, Bull. Soc. fr. Min., vol. 43 (1920), p. 94.

paeg 152 note 10 Pussenot, Ch., ‘Jadeite–Pyroxénites—Amphibolites’, Bull. Soc. Polymathique Morbihan (1908), pp. 66–9.

page 152 note 11 Forde, C. Daryll. ‘On the use of greenstone (jadeite, callais, etc.) in the Megalithic Culture of Brittany’, J. Roy. Anthr. Inst., vol. 60 (1930), p. 223, reporting Marsille, L., ‘Sous-sol et préhistoire; nos monuments et leur mobilier’, Bull. Soc. Polymathique Morbihan (1924), p. 16.

page 153 note 1 Cogné, J. and Giot, P. R., ‘L'étude pérographique des haches polies de Bretagne’, Bull. Soc. préhistorique française, vol. 50 (1953), pp. 37–9.

page 153 note 2 One paragraph of the paper in which these important conclusions are published is quoted in full below as it contains, in parentheses a statement which is based on a wrong identification by me of a pyroxene. This error was made by me several years ago and I have now corrected it (see p. 137). The paragraph in full reads:— (1) ‘des gneiss à pyroxene ou pyroxénites; nous n'avons pas eu dans nos mains des haches bretonnes composées de ces roches (il en est connu deux en Grande-Bretagne, l'une d'Ecosse, l'autre du Sud de l'Angleterre), roches pourtant abondantes dans le golfe du Morbihan (Roguédas, Port Navalo, etc.) et dont le pyroxène est de la série diopside-hédenbergite, strictement calco-ferro-magnésienne, sans alumine ni soude notables, 2V = 59°’.

The statement: ‘il en est connu deux en Grande-Bretagne …’ refers to my own wrong identification (Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. 83 (1951), session 1948–9, pp. 153–4) of the Cairnholy fragment as a ‘diopside-rock’ and of one of the Beaulieu axes as having as the main constituent ‘a pyroxene probably diopside’. Both identifications were based on thin sections only. I have since shown quite definitely that the Cairnholy fragment is jadeite and that the Beaulieu axe in which the pyroxene is associated with garnet is similar to a garnetiferous eclogite from Breteil, Ille-et-Vilaine (p. 150).

page 154 note 1 Damour, A., ‘Nouvelles analyses sur la jadéite et sur quelques roches sodifères,’ Bull. Min., vol. 14 (1881), pp. 161–2.

page 154 note 2 A. Damour, op. cit. (1865), p. 362.

page 154 note 3 Meyer, A. B., ‘Rohjadeit aus der Schweiz’, ‘Antigua’. Unterhaltungs-blatt der Alterthumskunde (Zürich, 1884), pp. 121–7. Also abstract in Neues Jahrbuch f. Min., 11 (1885), ref., p. 6.

page 154 note 4 A. Damour, op. cit. (1881), p. 161.

page 154 note 5 Mrazec, L., ‘Sur une jadeitite du Piemont’, Bull. Soc. Sci. Bucarest, vol. 7 (1898), pp. 187–96.

page 154 note 6 A. Damour, op. cit. (1881), pp. 161–3.

page 154 note 7 Piolti, G., ‘Sulla presenza della jadeite nella Valle di Susa’, Atti R. Accad. Sc. Torino, vol. 34 (1889), p. 602.

page 154 note 8 A specimen in the Department of Mineralogy [BM. 1924, 700] which perhaps represents this material as it is labelled ‘Mocchie, Val di Susa, Piedmont’ is green even in thin splinters but it is not pleochroic. Refractive indices determined by the immersion method, X′ 1.692 + 0.001, Y′(?) 1.710, Z′ near 1.710. These values are all higher than for any of the British jade axes for which the refractive indices have been measured by me. The extinction angle is γ: c=45°. Density 3.31. The X-ray powder photograph indicates jadeite with perhaps a proportion of aegirine (see p. 137). This would be in conformity with the high refractive indices.

page 154 note 9 Franchi, S., ‘Sopra alcuni giacimenti di roccie giadeitiche nelle Alpi occidentali e nell 'Appenninoligure’, Bull. R. Com. Geol. d'Italia, vol. 1 (1900), ser. 4, pp. 143 and 145.

page 154 note 10 Colomba, L., ‘Sopra una jadeitite di Cassine (Acqui), Rivista Min. Crist. Ital., vol. 27 (1901), pp. 1827.

page 154 note 11 Penfield, S. L., ‘On some minerals from the manganese mines of St. Marcel in Piedmont, Italy’, Amer. J. Sci., vol. 46 (1893), pp. 291–3.

page 155 note 1 Novarese, V., ‘Nuovi giacimenti piemontesi di giadeititie roccie giadeitoidi, Boll. Soc. Geol. Italiana, vol. 22 (1903), pp. 134–40.

page 155 note 2 A. Stella, ‘A proposito della diffusione della roccie a giadeite nelli Alpi occidentale’, ibid. (1903), pp. 141–2.

page 155 note 3 Bauer, M., Precious Stones. Translated by Spencer, L. J. (1904), p. 468.

page 155 note 4 Van der Plas, L., ‘Petrology of the northern Adula region, Switzerland’, Leidse Geol. Mededelingen, vol. 24 (1960), p. 480.

page 155 note 5 Lacroix, A., Minéralogie de la France et de ses Colonies, vol. 4 (1910), 773.

page 155 note 6 Cogné, J. and Giot, P. R., ‘L'étude pétrographique des haches polies de Bretagne …’, Bull. Soc. préhistorique française, vol. 54 (1957), pp. 240–1.

page 156 note 1 See Appendix for Warkworth Terrace, Cambridge and Grantchester (Piggott and Powell nos. 27 and 29).

page 157 note 1 See Appendix for Raftra, St. Levan (Piggott and Powell, no. 41).

page 159 note 1 See Appendix for Tuckton, nr. Christchurch.

page 160 note 1 Formerly in the Hartley College Museum, the collections of which were distributed among other museums. The ‘celt’ from Hordle is not in the Tudor House Museum, Southampton.

page 160 note 2 The number assigned in the Gazetteer on p. 156 should be 48 not 47.

page 160 note 3 Not with the Dale Collection in the City Museum, Winchester.

page 162 note 1 The white mica is similar to that found in two of the Scottish axes and in the fragments from Sidmouth, Devon (12). Its average refractive index is near 1.61 and its optic axial angle in air is about 54°.

paeg 162 note 2 Not in the Ashmolean Museum as suggested by Stuart Piggott and Powell.

page 163 note 1 Ref. Map O.S. 6 inch. Notts. Sheet XXXVI N.W., Nat. Grid ref. SK 838526.

page 163 note 2 See Appendix for Wherstead, Ipswich (Piggott and Powell, no. 30).

page 164 note 1 See Appendix for Broad Town and Scratchbury Camp (Piggott and Powell, no. 36).

page 164 note 2 Formerly in the collection of the late Mr W. E. Wright of Harnham, nr. Salisbury.

page 164 note 3 On loan from the Manchester Museum, No. 02919.

page 166 note 1 Evans, adds ‘possibly those of a dolmen’ and describes the axe-head as a ‘fine granite stone’. The figure (outline) in Archaeologia, vol. 7, p. 416 is not at all good but the dimensions are correct.

page 167 note 1 Formerly the property of Charles Wilsone Brown, Esq., of Wemyss, Renfrewshire.

page 168 note 1 This records it as in the Museum of Science and Art, Edinburgh.

page 169 note 1 See Appendix for Tristia, co. Mayo (Piggott and Powell, no. 19).


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