Finds tray – early Roman axehead

Last December, a metal-detectorist discovered this cast of a socketed axehead near Boynton in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Made of copper-alloy, it is perfectly complete but has been made in miniature, measuring only 23.9mm long.

While it was probably deposited in the late Iron Age or early Roman period (c.200 BC-AD 100), its moulded socket collar, wide body, and splayed blade mean it is more similar in shape to late Bronze Age axes. Near the socket, at the top of the head, is a loop, which may have functioned as a suspension ring to allow the axe to hang – perhaps to be used as a pendant or amulet.

Photo: Durham County Council.

Such doll’s-house-sized axes are relatively common in Britain, but rare in continental Europe. They have mainly been found in Roman contexts. A few have been discovered at Iron Age sites, however, which suggests that the practice of making these unusual artefacts may have had earlier origins. Rare examples have been found in late Bronze Age middens, but, as theorised by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), ‘[they] may have been retained as “heirloom” amuletic items’, an idea supported by the fact that they have frequently been found in association with Romano-British temples or shrines, as well as in rural religious locations.

Other examples from the PAS database include one from Bainton, also in the East Riding of Yorkshire (search for YORYM-7DA2C1 at www.finds.org.uk), one from Wakefield in West Yorkshire (SWYOR-18DAC4), and another from Whittington in Northumberland (NCL-346DE5).

For more information on the brooch, see https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/987177 or search for DUR-5FB597 on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is an initiative, funded by the DCMS, to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. For more information on the Scheme, and to browse its database of more than 1.5 million finds, visit www.finds.org.uk. Information for this find was provided by Benjamin Westwood, PAS Finds Liaison Officer for the North East (County Durham, Darlington, and Teeside).