A strange object was discovered in this landscape, near to Rainster Rocks, Brassington. It’s known as a ‘palstave’, a form of bronze age axe, 3,500-3,000 years old. Palstaves are usually made from bronze, but this one has been cast in lead. This heavy, soft material makes a very poor cutting tool. So why was it made?
One theory is that this is a way to transport lead. We suspect lead mining has a very long history in this part of the Peak District. Perhaps moulds used to make bronze axes were reused to cast lead into shapes easy to transport and export. This is questionable, moulds don’t last forever and are damaged each time they used. Would valuable moulds really be wasted on processing lead for transport?
A more plausible theory is that this object was used to create moulds, The lead version could be pushed into clay or sand to form to create the pattern into which a bronze axe could be cast.
The term ‘palstave’ is often used to describe this type of axe. However the term is misleading. The archaeologist John Evans popularised the term ‘palstave’ in English following Danish archaeologists who borrowed the Icelandic term, paalstab. Confusingly, a paalstab is not an axe, but a digging tool. However, the term had become so common with Scandinavian and German archaeologists that Evans thought it best to follow suit.
This palstave was identified through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, who describe it as:
Bronze Age lead looped palstave axe (narrow bodied, side flanged type class 2 group 1) with a narrow blade and trident decoration. It has a narrow body, straight sides and flat side flanges which extend from the butt to the blade edge. A matte white skin of corrosion covers the lead surface except on one side where five scratches reveal it as grey and shiny. Generally the palstave appears unused with most angles and edges intact, however one blade tip and one corner of the butt are damaged and there is also an indentation in the centre of the septum on one side.
See the PAS entry for this object, and see other similar finds at finds.org.uk