Hunting axe up to 5,000 years old thrown up by storms

Two rare implements found by women on Connemara coastline

Two stone axes, one of which could be 5,000 years old, have been found on the Connemara coast after the recent storms and sea surges along the Atlantic seaboard.

A late Mesolithic mudstone axe – used for hunting and described as "extremely rare" – was found by Connemara resident Elizabeth Moylan last week near her home in Ardmore, while a polished stone axe was found in the same area over this past weekend by her niece, Lorna.

Ms Moylan was walking the shoreline after the storms when she discovered the object. She contacted Connemara archaeologist Michael Gibbons, who confirmed that the mudstone artefact dated to the late Mesolithic, pre-farming period, about 4,000-5,000 BC.

The axe may have been hafted or attached to a handle or strap using a deer antler, and is believed to be the most westerly example of several hunting implements found in the Galway Bay region.


“We think that it may have been made in one of a number of “axe factories” in Co Clare and these implements were traded up the coastline,” Ms Moylan said. Several days later, her niece Lorna found a polished stone axe in the same location. Polished stone axes are of later origin, associated with farming.

Mr Gibbons said mudstone was not local to the area where it was found, which suggests it was acquired in a “hunter-gatherer trade network” extending from north Clare to the wider western Connacht region.

Ironically, a Fanore axe-making site was washed away in the recent storms, he said. “Several late Mesolithic finds have come to light in Connemara and the surrounding regions over the last few years, but this one pushes settlement in the Connemara Gaeltacht back further than we previously had evidence for,” he said.

The recent hurricane-force winds and sea swells destroyed some coastal archaeology, including Cromwell’s fort on Inishbofin, while exposing previously unidentified archaeology.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times