The Doonane Bronze Age Axehead

A socketed Bronze Age axe head was found in 1925.

Marian Hardiman

Doonane Bronze Age Axehead
© Marian Hardiman
Letter with Axe Head
© Marian Hardiman
Reply Letter
© Marian Hardiman
Label Attached to Axe Head
© Marian Hardiman

This socketed Bronze Age axe head was found in 1925 by a ploughman (un-named) in a field described as the “pre-historic battlefield “ located between Dolly’s Forge and the present village of Doonane.  It probably dates back to between 1500 to 3000 years ago.  It was given to a Rev. P.J. Murphy CC, Milltown.  In 1932 Dr. Thomas B. Costello, Bishop Street, Tuam, Co. Galway met with Fr. Costello.  The Axe and a wooden object were sent to the National Museum of Ireland accompanied by a letter from Dr. Costello.

Bronze Age Axehead:

The Axehead is approx 7 inches in length and is stored in a box with a Museum Reference number NM 1932: 6566.  It is a heavy object and handling was allowed while wearing museum gloves.  The original handle would have been wooden.  Archaeologist Maeve Sikora advised that it is a fantastic example of a Bronze Age Axehead and was delighted to make it available.  Photography was allowed of the Axehead as well as the file of letters , labels and the box where it is stored.

To put this in context the following describes the various Ages in the development of mankind:
• Stone Age (2.5 million – 20,000 years ago) – The Stone Age or Paleolithic Period is the name Archaeologists have given to the beginning of a time in the history that includes humans in their earliest forms.
• Hunters and Gatherers (20,000 – 12,000 years ago) – Early humans relied on hunting and gathering as a way to live and lived a nomadic lifestyle.
• First Farming Societies (12,000 – 5,000 years ago) – Neolithic Age – Beginning about 12,000 years ago, humans begin to invent a whole range of useful behaviours that together we call the Neolithic Revolutions. Most importantly, humans began to tend and then deliberately grow crops and animals, including a range of domesticated animals and plants and to settle into fixed abodes.
• Early Civilizations (3000-1500 BC) – (Bronze Age Early, Middle and Late): Evidence for fairly sophisticated political and social organization has been identified in Mesopotamia (corresponding to modern day countries of Iraq, Kuwait and Syria) as long ago as 4700 BC; but most of the post-Neolithic societies that we consider ‘civilizations’ are dated beginning just about 3000 BC.
• Ancient Empires (1500- to year of Jesus Christ’s birth) – About 3000 years ago, towards the end of what archaeologists call the Late Bronze Age and beginning of the Iron Age, the first true organised societies appeared; however, not all societies which appeared during this time period were empires.
• Developing States (Year of Jesus Christ’s birth to -1000 AD) – The first 1000 years of the modern era saw the rise of important societies throughout the world. Not many of them became long-lasting states, but almost all modern states have their immediate roots in this period.
• Medieval Period (AD 1000 – 1500) – The middle ages of the 11th through 16th centuries around the world established the economic, political and religious underpinnings of the world that we live in today.
Letters on file at the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin
From the letter s on file at the Museum and the letter of acknowledgment from the “Keeper of Antiquities of Ireland” at the time, it appears that persons who found objects were paid a fee in those times.  Nowadays all treasurers discovered are to be reported and handed over immediately to the State.

The following are transcripts of the letters on file:

Bishop Street, Tuam, Co. Galway
26th July, 1932:
Dear Mr. Maher,
“I got the wooden object from a friend who often sends me things.    He has a travelling hippodrome or Circus so visits every town in Ireland.  I send it with all the information I got – being wooden it may require treatment.    Fr. P.J. Murphy CC Milltown had two bronze objects for some years past he would not part with them or sell them but he was in Tuam a week ago or so and I gave him a nice collapsible “landing set”(?) and a collapsible gaff (?)  He is a great Irishman and was tempted to part with the objects I said were for the Museum so it would be well if you would write to thank him as he may have other things.  I will be glad to know what you think of the Celtic Palstave .  The ridge running down the blade is unusual perhaps rare.  Mr. Costello brings this bronze Celtic dagger – early type”.

Reply to Dr. Costello from Mr. Maher of the Museum at the time:

18th July, 1932
Dear Mr. Costello,
I have received through the kindness of Mrs. Costello the three articles which the Museum is accepting with the utmost gratitude.  The wooden object I must confess I find difficult to explain.  It seems to have had some connection with butter or cheese making and the only explanation I can offer is that it may have been part of the dash churn, to prevent the spilling over of milk. The bronze axe is undoubtedly a very fine specimen and Mrs. Costello explained to me the way in which you got this and the bronze dagger from Fr. Murphy.  It was a very good bargain as far as the Museum is concerned and I am afraid you are the losing part in it. I am sending a letter to Fr. Murphy and I send you the thank giving form. The ridge which runs down the plate is not entirely a new phenomenon but not frequent either and occurs more frequently on Southern British rather than Irish axes.  Somehow I have the feeling that the axe may be of British origin and was brought to Ireland in the Bronze age. However, it is only guess work and at a later stage when all our records are more complete this type of axe may be a welcome subject for special treatment. I have just signed another payment sheet for 50 pounds but unfortunately it does not mean they will pay at once as the Estimates have not been passed.

Background to the Bronze Age in Ireland: (1500 yrs to 3000 yrs ago)

The earliest human settlement in Ireland dates to about 7,000 years ago.  The discovery of metal was a key event in human history. This was the first material that could be moulded into any desired shape. Additionally, metal was much stronger than stone and could be put to much more effective uses. The first metal that mankind widely used was bronze – an alloy of copper and tin. Although this new technology arrived in Europe around 4000BC, it did not reach Ireland for a further 2000 years. Settlers from France arrived in Ireland around 2000BC, bringing the knowledge of Bronze working with them and the existing inhabitants learned the trade from them. Slowly the culture of these bronze-working settlers merged with that of the earlier Irish and gave birth to the Irish Bronze.
The land that had been used in the Neolithic period was the upland areas that had been cleared of forest cover. The lowland areas were still largely forested. However, the end of the Bronze Age seems to have coincided with a general downturn in climatic conditions, bringing wetter and colder conditions to Ireland. Many of the upland areas, already acidifying from over-use, turned into peat-bogs which are very poor agriculturally. Places such as the Ceide Fields, in Mayo, which were arable land in the Neolithic period were covered by the advancing blanket bogs. These blanket bogs had been created on the high land by deforestation and over-grazing, but the wetter weather caused them to extend further downhill. Bronze Age people built stone circles and used them for ceremonial purpose. Sites called Fulach Fia (one found in Menlough) are also associated with these people who used the site for warming stones to cook.
This page was added on 05/01/2015.

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