Ice Axes

Axe HoardFreezing temperatures and snow means that ice axes can sometimes prove useful.

Snow MouldAxe MouldTransitionsIce HoardHafted Axe

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The axe has been a powerful tool, both functionally and symbolically, through out much of prehistory.  The polished stone axe in the Neolithic (c 4000 – 2500 BC) clearly has a significance beyond the functional with highly polished examples, that clearly were never used for felling trees, but had circulated long distances.  Yet this belies the fact that in experienced hands the axe is an effective tool to fell and clear woodland, and as such has played a role historically in the transformation of many a landscape.

In the Copper Age / early Bronze Age in Britain c 2500 BC the first metal axes were cast in flat open stone moulds.  Some examples of Bronze Age axes we have in museums were recovered from bogs and / or rivers during the 19th and 20th centuries as parts of groups of objects.  They had been collected together into groups (often described as hoards) during the Bronze Age and deposited as votive offerings in bogs and rivers.  Thus in some cases, objects born of stone and fire were plunged seemingly forever into a watery death.

Inspired by bronze castings I have seen in recent years, and with low temperatures, I wondered if I could cast ice axes?

So I took a replica of a Bronze Age axe and used it to create templates of early Bronze age axes forms : the earliest Broad Butt forms and later more developed forms with more splayed cutting edges and a narrow butt.  I then used these templates to create snow moulds to cast boiled then cooled water into : I couldn’t resist some colour too !

The next morning a small collection of axes were removed from the mould. Collected together I now have a small hoard of ice axes.  As temperatures rise they will probably be gone in a few days time, unlike some examples from the Bronze Age in Britain which have lasted for 4500 years.

The Sword Cycle

The ability to transform materials can have an almost magical quality.  There is great skill to be able to source metalliferous ores, smelt them to produce metal and then cast to produce complex objects.

Molten SwordNew SwordWhen a Bronze sword was removed from its, typically clay, mould…

Cast Swordits edges were trimmed, sharpened and blade polished.

A wooden hilt and pommel may have been attached.

Living SwordIf Bronze Age metalwork broke (or was no longer desirable) it could readily be recycled.

Melted down and recast in a different mould.

Fiery SwordIf such objects are not repaired, reused or recycled, they can potentially drop out of the cycle, found by archaeologists, corroded green with time.

Lost SwordWhen recovered properly another cycle of study and learning commences.

Fragments conserved, analysed…

Melted Sword…reassembled and interpreted.

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The Bronze Sword cycle above relates to a Wilburton type sword,  a type in production some time around c 1000 to 900 BC.  About this time Iron production commenced and cycles of production and recycling which may have taken place in the United Kingdom for about 1500 years before were challenged by new powers.

During Burning the Circle 2014 the Bronze sword was placed on the central ‘pyre’ structures which burned fiercely for nearly four hours, and then smouldered to nothing during the remainder of the night.  The broken and fragmented remains of the sword were excavated the next morning, amongst the broken parts were hundreds of small spheres of Bronze.  These spheres indicate that, in the heart of the fire temperatures reached c 950 degrees centigrade, at which point parts of the sword turned liquid.

All images are of activities taking place at Burning The Circle, apart from the hafted polished sword which has been kindly provided by Neil Burridge.

 

Bronze Inspired Creativity

CinBA-conference-bannerCreativity in the Bronze Age, and contemporary responses to it, will be explored at an important conference next year at the University of Cambridge: more details can be found on the CinBA Conference-Flyer.  The conference is part of an ongoing research project ‘Creativity and Craft Production in Middle and Late Bronze Age Europe’ (CinBA), further details of which can be found at the CinBA project website.  I would certainly recommend exploring the website of this fascinating and innovative research project.

One striking example of the way in which contemporary responses to the Bronze Age have been addressed by the project was through engaging with contemporary artists who have explored aspects of Bronze Age material culture through a variety of mediums.  Please have a look at the great example of ceramics produced by students who worked on the project, as part of Santorini Biennale of Arts 2012, which can be seen in an exhibition catalogue.   Another fantastic example of works inspired by knowledge of the Bronze Age by contemporary craft students can also be viewed in a booklet.

Importantly the research seeks to develop practices which go beyond the ‘current state of the art’ and its results may have some exciting impacts, such as providing

‘the basis for new types of heritage experiences in which creative potentials of objects are more imaginatively explored, as well as offering inspiration and new roles for the contemporary craft sector.’

A project which is well worth watching for its results.

The CinBA project was one of nine funded by HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) researching aspects of creativity.

I wonder what the other eight projects are researching ?