The Malone Road hoard of Neolithic polished stone axes

Location: Ulster Museum / History / Early Peoples

The Malone Road hoard of 19 axes was discovered only a short distance from the Ulster Museum in the late 1800s. They are the most impressive hoard of Neolithic polished stone axes from Ireland.

The stone axes from the Malone Road hoard are about 6000 years old. This is known as the Neolithic period when people farmed the land. Most other Neolithic axes are smaller and when fitted with a wooden handle, were used to cut wood.

While some 20,000 stone axes are known, few are of this size or quality of finish. Experiments have shown that if fitted with a wooden handle they are effective in cutting down trees, but the examples from this hoard are simply too large and heavy to be used in that way.

Starting with a ‘roughout’ in the basic shape of an axe the stone axes were made by polishing and grinding their surface with sand and water. It took a lot of time, effort and skill to make them. Axes made in Ireland were traded with people from England and elsewhere.

The size and quality of the Malone Road axes suggest their value lay in their appearance and the skill and effort to produce them, rather than any practical cutting function.

The stone from which these axes are made is known as porcellanite. This rock type is geologically distinct, occurring only in two locations in the north of Ireland. This means that axes made of porcellanite can be distinguished from those made from other rocks. Some of these Irish porcellanite axes have been found in England and Scotland providing evidence of Neolithic trade routes.

What to look for when you visit: The sheer size and quality of these axes can be compared with others nearby. There are also examples of ‘roughouts’ and a distribution map showing where axes made of porcellanite have been found.

Image: BELUM.A12334 The Malone Road Hoard
BELUM.A12334 The Malone Road Hoard
Image: BELUM.A12334 The Malone Road Hoard
BELUM.A12334 The Malone Road Hoard