The Irish Stone Axe Project
Stone axes have long been considered one of the characteristic
artefact types of the Neolithic Period in Ireland (4000-2500 BC), and
they are known to have been in use from the earliest phase of human
settlement in the Early Mesolithic Period (c. 7000 BC), to well into
the Bronze Age, from 2500 BC onwards. We now know that there are over
20,000 stone axes in Ireland, and this number will invariably rise as
axes continue to come to light. Representing such a large body of
data, stone axes are as invaluable a tool to the archaeologist
interpreting early prehistory as they were in the lives of the people
of this time. Studies of their distribution and context give an
indication of settlement and trading patterns, and the many different
methods and styles of manufacture provide clues as to the complex
social and economic role that they clearly played.
The Irish Stone Axe Project (ISAP) was set up in 1990. Since 1991
it has had substantial research funding from the National Heritage
Council and its successor the Heritage Council (since 1995) which has
provided the essential funding for the research programme of the
project. The project arose out of the realisation of the potential of
stone axe studies in understanding many different aspects of earlier
Irish prehistory, including human knowledge and exploitation of the
geological environment. The basic aim of the the ISAP is to establish
a database of Irish stone axes. This incorporates contextual,
morphological and petrological information on all known stone axes.
The database is the basis for further research on different aspects
of the production, distribution and deposition of Irish stone axes.
One of the most important aspects of stone axe studies is the
identification of the different rock types that were utilised in
their manufacture, and the locating of potential sources for them.
Research by the ISAP has shown that in Ireland, whilst a very wide
range of lithologies were exploited, a relatively small number of
rock types are abundant, and furthermore these tendto be concentrated
in different parts of the country.
Dr Gabriel Cooney - Director
Dr Stephen Mandal - Post-doctoral research fellow (petrologist)
Emmet Byrnes (M.A.) - Research assistant
Finola O'Carroll (M.A.) - Research associate
List of publications:
Byrnes, E., 1996. The Early Prehistory of the Upper Shannon
Catchment, with Special
Reference to Stone Axes. Unpublished MA thesis, University
Cooney, G., 1992. The gift of stone - the study of Irish stone
axes. Archaeology Ireland 6(4), 24-7.
Cooney, G., 1993. Review of the work of the Irish Stone Axe
Project 1991-1993. Unpublished report for
the National Heritage Council.
Cooney, G. 1995. At the cutting edge. Technology Ireland
Cooney, G., 1996. Lambay Island . In I. Bennett (ed)
Excavations in Ireland 1995, 00-0. Wordwell,
Cooney, G. and Mandal, S., 1995. Getting to the core of the
problem: petrological results from the Irish
Stone Axe Project. Antiquity 69, 969-80.
Cooney, G and O'Keeffe, T, 1996. A collection of prehistoric
axeheads at St Patrick's College, Carlow.
Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland
Cooney, G., Mandal, S. and O'Carroll, F., 1995. Stone Axes as
Icons: Approaches to the study of Stone
Axes in Ireland. In: E. Grogan and C. Mount (eds), Annus
Archaeologiae, 23-36. OPW/OIA, Dublin.
Cooney, G., Feehan, J., Grogan, E. and Stillman, C., 1990. Stone
Axes in Co. Tipperary. Tipperary
Historical Journal 2, 197-203.
Cooney, G., O'Carroll, F., Grogan, E. and Mandal, S. 1992. Stone
Axes of County Louth: a second
report. County Louth Archaeological and Historical Journal
Mandal, S., 1996a. The Petrology of the Irish Stone Axe.
Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of
Dublin, Trinity College.
Mandal, S., 1996b. Irish Stone Axes - rock and role of the
petrologist. Archaeology Ireland 38, 32-5
Mandal, S., in press. Striking the balance: the roles of
petrography and geochemistry in stone axe studies
in Ireland. Archaeometry.
Mandal, S. and Cooney, G., in press. The Irish Stone Axe Project:
A second petrological report. Journal
of Irish Archaeology.
Mandal, S., Cooney, G., O'Carroll, F. and Guinan, B., 1991/2. A
review of the petrological techniques
being utilised to identify, group and source Irish stone axes.
Journal of Irish Archaeology 6, 1-11
Mandal, S., Cooney, G., Meighan, I. and Jamison, D., in press.
Using geochemistry to interpret
porcellanite stone axe production in Ireland. Jorrnal of