A short blog about axe blades carved onto Stonehenge megaliths

After Hugo Anderson-Whymark commented that the 1969 photo in my last blog showed axe blades picked up in the English Heritage laser study (and not “new”, as I’d suggested), I had a closer look. I was expecting him to be right. Now I’m not so sure.

Here is the result of comparing a few images. At the top, I’ve pasted all the carvings described by Abbott & Anderson Whymark (2012) on stones 5, 4 and 3 onto one of my photos. The colours show axes described before 2003 (red) and additional ones they found in 2012 (green) (the 2003 date stems from an article by Tom Goskar and colleagues in British Archaeology Nov 2003/73, in which they found a few new carvings in a trial laser study). I located the carvings by matching the stones’ edges, which at this scale is quite accurate. It creates an impressive effect – bearing in mind the possibility that the carvings may originally have been painted.

The key to matching the 1969 photo is a fine bit of graffiti on stone 4, carved in 1866 by one H Bridger from Chichester, West Sussex. You can see it on the left of this photo from Atkinson’s book (1956):


Here is the graffiti in one of my photos (lower left of centre):

I’ve marked three changes in angle on the right edge of the stone, which I’ve also marked on the 1969 photo below:

axes-1969 rings

And finally the lower part of stone 4 with all the carvings:

stone 4

You can’t see it in the photo, so I’ve marked the approximate site of Bridger’s graffiti (the lichen patterns help in all this). So are those axes in the 1969 photo also in the 2012 laser plan? They could, and this would make sense, be the two larger ones at the top recorded before 2003. But are they in the right place? The left photo below is looking straight at the stone, the right looking up from below. The clarity of the carvings in the 1969 photo would suggest the laser study would hardly have missed them. I do feel, however, that a higher resolution survey would be useful.

stone 4 R edge

To close, here’s a photo of the three blades on stone 3 showing very clearly in TV floods at night in 2000:

stone 3 axes


7 thoughts on “A short blog about axe blades carved onto Stonehenge megaliths

  1. Glad the y ve finally got around to the carvings! I ve always felt there were loads of them. More to be found, i m sure, in among the weathering. But where are the ancestors, i wonder? I imagine they may be looking on somewhere.

    Also, have they checked the lintels? Maybe it s not all frost damage up there..i know there are “cupmarks” on top..but a nice frieze would be good!

    There should also be more daggers, esp on the NNE stones.

    I think the carvings may well have been painted.. The stones were designed to be awesome…not bare… Not a Methodist Chapel! And some of them were designed to sparkle, i think…

    Interesting stuff,

    steve hill

  2. Mr. Pitts, considering the impressive results obtained in the analysis of the Antikythera mechanism, I’m wondering if someone could organize a team to take photographs of the site and apply _polynomial texture mapping_ . I think the results would be worthwhile, highly informative, reveal new, unknown markings, and further demonstrate the value of this interesting non-destructive technique.

  3. Sounds likeThera gave everyone a run for their money back in the day. Their Labrys shows up everywhere, like a trademark. Great traders & merchants, as well ~ and leaving a trail of architects/builders wherever they landed the ships! Even on desolate Lewis above Scotland.

  4. How is it known that these carvings are axes?I’m no expert but it seems strange that there are so many and they are all carved in the same direction.Is it possible that these aren’t axes but mushrooms?

    1. Funnily enough, that was an idea I toyed with when writing my book, Hengeworld. There’s a chapter about astronomy and altered states, and it did occur to me that the carvings could be seen as mushrooms. Looking at the book now, i can’t see that i wrote that in, and in fact the case for axes is stronger: there is a metal dagger carving on a stone, we find metal axes of those shapes in the late Stonehenge world, and there is no evidence for mushroom use in that way. But who knows? Another possibility I wondered about, was could they be feet?

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