A Remote Analogy?: From Central Australian Tjurunga to Irish Early Bronze Age Axes

By Dickins, Jane | Antiquity, March 1996 | Go to article overview

A Remote Analogy?: From Central Australian Tjurunga to Irish Early Bronze Age Axes


Dickins, Jane, Antiquity


Our interpretation of Bronze Age metalwork is based, for the most part, on commonsense ideas of what is functional and what is not, which items were intended to be recovered, which were gifts to other worlds. A more considered source of analogy than our limited experience is available at a certain distance. Remote in terms of measured miles, the analogy is nevertheless effective in expanding current definitions of how ritual is expressed through material culture.

Introduction

It is fun to find the same pattern on Aranda tjurunga and an Irish grave slab. . . . The value of such ethnographic comparisons is just to show the funny kinds of meanings or purposes that may be attached to the queerer kinds of archaeological data

(CHILDE 1958: 4)

Comparing sacred tjurunga from Central Australia to material culture from Early Bronze Age Ireland is not an original idea. Childe goes on to argue that such comparisons will be a waste of time if one expects the analogy to 'explain the motives and values' of prehistoric peoples (1958: 4). The primary use of ethnographic analogy, as Childe recognizes in the quoted remark, is simple, to 'broaden the horizons of the interpreter' (Ucko 1969: 262).

Patterning in the deposition of early metal axes from Bronze Age Ireland is certainly among the 'queerer kinds' of archaeological data, and currently something of an enigma. Irish data conflicts with the current frameworks for interpreting the deposition of early metal in Bronze Age Europe. This paper addresses the enigma by expanding the current definition of what constitutes ritual behaviour in the archaeological record through the application of an unusual analogy. Gordon Childe saw the potential of Australian tjurunga as an analogy for certain aspects of the material record in Ireland almost half a century ago. This paper explores that potential.

Axes in Early Bronze Age Ireland

Axes are the principle metal products of Early Bronze Age (EBA) Ireland. Over 2100 early metal axes have survived down to the present clay, compared to only 142 daggers, 150 halberds and a handful of assorted small tools and bronze ornaments. Yet despite the relatively high numbers of axes, their role, and the social contexts underlying their production and deposition, remain a mystery. We have some dates from sites associated with early mining, the earliest being from Ross Island, Co. Kerry, with dates c. 2400-2000 BC, the oldest working copper mine in northwest Europe (O'Brien 1995: 24). Smelting sites have been discovered adjacent to the Bronze Age workings at Ross Island, but there is no evidence for the casting and production of axes or other metal objects.

The material components and debris associated with the casting and production of axes - moulds, crucibles, axe blanks and the finished products themselves - are not found in association with mining sites, or in other datable contexts such as settlements, burials, henges and monuments. The only four exceptions to this rule, representing a tiny fraction of the total output of EBA axes, are each of an axe found in association with a burial mound of some kind, although not in association with the burial itself or with any grave goods. It seems likely that in each of these cases the axes were secondary deposits: they may belong to a tradition of non-grave mound deposition (O'Brien et al. 1990: 16) better documented in Britain (Needham 1988: 241-3).

The contents of graves and axe deposits can be described as mutually exclusive (O'Flaherty 1992). Early metal axes, and the material remains associated with their production, are found deposited away from other sites and activities associated with human occupation; consistently deposited in isolation from other social activities. Axes share this isolated deposition with certain other classes of early metal artefacts, notably the gold crescentic collars - lunulae.

The lack of 'meaningful' contextual data for EBA axes, and the absence of a reliable chronological framework has led many archaeologists to regard them as effectively 'without context', at best 'negative evidence'. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Remote Analogy?: From Central Australian Tjurunga to Irish Early Bronze Age Axes
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.