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Dr Amber Sofia Roy

28 April 2021

Project Title

The use and significance of Early Bronze Age Stone Battle-axes and Axe-hammer from Northern Britain and the Isle of Man.


Project Description

My PhD addressed the uses and significance of perforated stone battle-axes and axe-hammers from Northern Britain and the Isle of Man. These British Early Bronze Age (EBA) objects are central to debates about prestige, status and ritual. Previous scholars assumed that battle-axes were purely ceremonial, while the rougher axe-hammers were neither functional nor prestigious, being too large and too crude to be prestige items. 20th-century studies focussed on creating a typology and understanding the manufacture and petrological sources of the stone.

My research determined the main uses and significance of these implements through use-wear analysis, experimental archaeology, and a theoretical contextual assessment. This project was the first to apply use-wear analysis to a large sample of British EBA battle-axes and axe-hammers, providing an opportunity to reassess the role and significance of these objects and contributed crucial use data to the traceological research on groundstone, which has thus far received less attention than knapped and flaked industries.

As demonstrated by my publications and 12 conference presentations, my doctorate has challenged the received wisdom of both object types. They were both functional and symbolic, being used for woodworking, land clearance and animal slaughter, with the potential for prolonged use by multiple users. Those implements placed in burials drew on relational links which developed through the lives of these objects. Use and treatment were similar across all types of battle-axe and axe-hammer, with some regional variation in axe-hammer deposition in south-west Scotland.

The success of my research involved key refinements to existing methodologies. To assess context, Hodder’s (2003, 173) approach (typological, chronological, stratigraphic, spatial, and cultural) was extended to include use and petrology contexts. This allowed a more nuanced and extensive understanding of possible roles, associations, meanings, and significance across time and space, from manufacture through to use and deposition. It demonstrates the complexities of these EBA artefacts.

Use-context of battle-axes and axe-hammers was evaluated through use-wear analysis, optical, and metallographic microscopy. Acetate casts were taken of the relevant areas on the implements to replicate the wear for analysis under high magnifications with a metallographic microscope. I developed this innovative casting methodology to replicate use-wear on ground stone and overcome the damage caused by using traditional silicon replicative material.

Experimental tests were used to aid the identification of function through the creation of a reference collection of wear traces attributed to specific activities and an understanding of effectiveness. These included: chopping branches off a pine tree; splitting birch wood logs; clearance of soil that included roots and soil with stones; and an ethically approved animal slaughter test using deceased animals. Analysis of use-wear throughout the experiments revealed a new use-wear formation which develops in the early stages of chopping wood. This significantly enhanced the interpretation of wood-working stone tools and supplies essential use-data for future research.


  • Two posters at the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Student Symposium 2015 'The Hustle and Bustle of a Neolithic Stone Axe Factory: A Focus on Activities at Graig Lwyd' and 'A contextual and comparative analysis of the uses and significance of British Neolithic and Early Bronze Age hafted stone implements'.
  • Paper at the 9th International Annual Conference of the Archaeological Working Group Tools and Weapons 2016: "'Ambivalence": An analysis of the use of the Battle-Axe: functional or symbolic?'
  • Paper at Preistoria E Protostoria in Etruria, 13th Conference 2016 'The stone battle-axe: weapon, symbol, or something else entirely?'
  • Poster at the 13th Annual Postgraduate Forum Conference 2016 'The Scandinavian Battle-Axe: An assessment'
  • Paper at the GAO Annual Conference 2017 'Engagement across the Irish Sea: The connections of Irish Stone Mace-heads'
  • Poster at the UK Archaeological Science Conference 2017 'Using acetate to replicate ground and polished stone surfaces'
  • Paper at the 14th Annual Postgraduate Forum Conference 2017 'Identifying movement and use in ground and polished stone'
  • Paper at the Bronze Age Forum 2017 'Analysing wear traces on British Early Bronze Age perforated stone tools: A preliminary assessment'
  • Paper at the Association of Archaeological Wear and Residue Analysts Conference May 2018 'More than one way to skin a cat': A preliminary assessment of British perforated stone implements
  • Paper at the Experimental Archaeology Student Symposium (EASTs) 2018 ‘The Functionality of Battle-Axes: using experimental Tests and Wear Analysis to test stereotypical and dated assumptions of use’
  • Paper at the Experimental Archaeology Conference 11 ‘The Functionality of Battle-Axes: using experimental Tests and Wear Analysis to test stereotypical and dated assumptions of use’
  • Paper at the Bronze Age Forum 2019 ‘The use and significance of Early Bronze Age stone battle-axes and axe-hammers: The final assessment’
  • Paper at the European Association of Archaeologists conference 2020 ‘Using interdisciplinary approaches to understand the functionality of Early Bronze Age stone battle-axes and axe-hammers; removing lacunas in research’

Public Lectures

  • Paper at the Northumberland Archaeology Group AGM 2019 ‘Multi-functional tools – a reassessment of Early Bronze Age Battle-axes’


  • Roy, A.S. 2020. The use and significance of Early Bronze Age perforated stone battle-axes and axe-hammers, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
  • Roy, A.S. 2020. Enhancing the accuracy of use interpretation: The discovering of a new wear formation with the complementary methods of experimental archaeology and use-wear analysis, The EXARC Journal
  • Roy, A.S. 2019. The use and significance of perforated ground and polished stone implements from the Early Bronze Age, Unpublished PhD Thesis (Newcastle University)
  • Roy, A.S. 2018. The Stone Battle-Axe: Weapon, Symbol, or Something Else Entirely? In N Negroni Catacchio (Ed.) Preistoria E Protostoria in Etruria: Volume I (Centro Studi di Preistoria e Archeologia: Milan): 113-116.
  • Roy, A.S. 2017. A contextual and comparative analysis of the uses and significance of Northern British perforated stone implements: A preliminary study, in Stonechat, 6, 7-15
  • Roy, A.S. 2016. The Scandinavian Battle-Axe: An Assessment, in Pons Aelius, 13, 4-12.


I completed both my Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Archaeology and my Masters in Celtic Archaeology at Bangor University.                   

  • BA dissertation title - Exchange relationships in the Irish Sea Zone: An examination of Neolithic stone axes in eastern Ireland and northwest Wales.
  • MA dissertation title - The Hustle and Bustle of a Neolithic Stone Axe Factory: A Focus on Activities at Graig Lwyd.

Research grants and Funding Awards

  • The Research Scholarships and Expedition 2018 Award
  • Erasmus Mobility Fund
  • Sir Richard Stapley Education Grant
  • The Mackichan Trust Grant
  • The Marshal Cubbon Bursary
  • Materiality, Artefacts & Technologies in Culture & History Group (MATCH), Newcastle, Grant

Other Roles

  • Jan – July 2021: Historic Environment Record Officer, Greater London Archaeological Advisory Service, Historic England
  • 2020 – Ongoing: The Effectiveness of Casting Methods Project, Newcastle University
  • 2018 – Present: Founder and Member, Experimental Archaeology Newcastle Research Group (EXARN)
  • 2017 – ongoing: Outreach Officer/Site Supervisor, Round Mounds of the Isle of Man Project
  • 2016 – ongoing: Academic Proof-Reader, Archaeologia Bulgarica Journal
  • 2020 June- July: Leisure Learning Tutor, City College Norwich
  • 2019 Dec: Consultant for The Beyond the Three-Age System Project, Leicester University
  • 2019 Jan – Mar: Stone Specialist for the Amara West Project, British Museum
  • 2017 – 2020: Teaching Assistant, Newcastle University
  • 2017 – 2018: Seminar Coordinator, Postgraduate Forum, Newcastle
  • 2016 – 2018: Social Media Officer and conference organiser, Postgraduate Forum, Newcastle