Discovering the Past – An Imprint of the Bronze Age

Early Bronze Age mould for casting flat bronze axes, acquired by University of Aberdeen Museums in 1984 with an NFA grant of £75

When you think about the Bronze Age you think about bronze, right? So you would think in a blog post focusing on Bronze Age Aberdeenshire I would be looking at a bronze object – but no, the object I’m looking at is not a shiny bronze torque or piece of bronze weaponry, rather it is a dull piece of sandstone. Let’s take a closer look and find out what this object can tell us about its fascinating past.

First, let’s look at the sandstone itself. This is not any old sandstone, it is Old Red Sandstone, a stone local to the New Deer area of Aberdeenshire. Already we are getting a clearer story; we now know this stone was carved and used in New Deer, Aberdeenshire, specifically it was found in Corsegight. But what was it used for?

Early Bronze Age mould for casting flat bronze axes

Early Bronze Age mould for casting flat bronze axes

Let’s take a closer look at the shape carved out in the sandstone. Straight away we get more of the object’s story. The shape is obviously that of an axe head but not any old axe head, it’s the shape of a Migdale axe head. Migdale axes are flat axes of the Bronze Broad Butted type, one of three variants of this type; the other two being Dunnottar and Kilaha. So now we know the object has something to do with Bronze Age axes – let’s look for some more clues which will let us know what the object was used for.

It might not be as shiny as a bronze object but the colours on the stone do let us find out more about its purpose. The carved axe shape indent is blackened to 10mm depth which would have occurred when hot metal was poured into it and, of course, the metal predominately used would have been bronze!

So we now know, by taking a closer look at this stone, that it would have been used in an Aberdeenshire smithy as a mould to create bronze Migdale axe heads in c2400-1800 BC. Many of these axe head moulds were found in Corsegight, New Deer, telling us that the production of bronze axe heads was a specialised activity in this area. The axe heads made using this Old Red Sandstone mould would have looked something like the one below, which is a Migdale type axe head made from bronze.

Bronze Migdale axe head from Durris, Kincardineshire,

Bronze Migdale axe head from Durris, Kincardineshire, c2200-1500 BC

One of my favourite things about working in a museum is learning about objects and discovering their secrets. I hope I have shown that by taking a closer look at a seemingly uninteresting object you can delve into the past and discover the unique story behind the object.

Laura Beare
Curatorial Assistant (Community Engagement)
University of Aberdeen Museums

www.abdn.ac.uk/museums

 

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One thought on “Discovering the Past – An Imprint of the Bronze Age

  1. Hi Laura,
    Just a back story on the Corsegight 1 mould. I was married to Charlie Coutts daughter Edith. We were up at the farm on holiday in 1983 and had been there a couple of days. At the back door of the farm there is a stone platform which once held a heating oil tank. There, is deposited any found item that might be useful – old tow hitch pins, horse shoes etc. I was walking past the platform when I saw the piece of sandstone and, on turning it over knew immediately what it was, having spend many a long day in the British Museum. I rushed inside with the find asking where it had come from and saying, ” Do you know what this is?” To which Charlie replied, ” Aye, it’s an auld stane.” Further conversation revealed that it had been found by my brother-in-law, Douglas Coutts who said, ” I was picking stanes oot ae the tattie park and I saw this so I pit it in ma pooch and brought it hame sine I kent ye’d ken whit it wis.” Charlie had speculated that the stone was a ‘footing’ for a post of some sort.

    I phoned Marischal College Museum and got through to Jim Inglis who persuaded me to bring the mould in to him. Jim cleaned it up a bit and I noticed that, in additions to splashes of bronze still adhering to the surface presumably from last use, that there was a very distinctive pattern of grooves on the bottom of the incised shape. I think I made a joke to Jim that he could make a number of cold resin casts from the mould and sell them to the museum visitors. I still remember the old fashioned look he gave me.

    I believe that Jim went on to check the mould against the collections of axe heads in the Glasgow and Edinburgh museums, finding three that had been cast from it. I have not been able to find his published research on this.

    Douglas found Corsegight 2 the next year about 100 feet from the spot where he found 1. As I recall 2 showed blackening from extensive use whereas 1 was relatively pristine.

    I can be contacted at tja_campbell@ hotmail.com

    Best regards,
    Tom Campbell.

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