Powerful Objects: Traditional Beliefs about Neolithic Axes and Knives in Shetland

Author(s): Gabriel Cooney; Jenny Murray; Will Megarry

Year: 2017


In the Shetland islands off the north coast of Scotland there was major exploitation of a lithic source known as riebeckite felsite during the Neolithic period. This source provided the raw material for the majority of stone axes known from the archipelago and also for objects known as Shetland knives. At the source, North Roe, mainland Shetland intrusive dykes of felsite occur in granite. Integrated, multi-scalar survey and excavation by the North Roe Felsite Project has demonstrated that some of these were worked extensively. Objects from the quarry complex have been found right across the island group. Museum records and oral accounts indicate that traditionally felsite axes in particular were regarded as powerful objects, often deliberately incorporated into the walls of buildings and actively employed in practices to bring good luck to the family and farm. This paper will explore the basis for this active social role of felsite objects and raise the question of the extent of local knowledge of the quarry which was archaeologically identified within the last fifty years.

Cite this Record

Powerful Objects: Traditional Beliefs about Neolithic Axes and Knives in Shetland. Gabriel Cooney, Jenny Murray, Will Megarry. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429707)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15133