In a pit at a recent excavation for Wrenbridge, at Bidwell West, Bedfordshire, our field team found a small quantity of prehistoric pottery, a fragment of cervical vertebrae from a probable aurochs (wild cattle), and this perforated antler tool. The presence of an aurochs bone suggests a Late Bronze Age date at the latest for this feature, when this species of large wild cattle was hunted to extinction in Britain.
The tool, probably an axe head or pick, is made from the beam of an antler. The end has been cut to an oblique point to create a vertical blade. The head features a large, slightly ‘hourglass’ shaped perforation, which was possibly the fitting for a handle or haft. This tool has broken at this hole and the point does not appear well worn from use, suggesting it may have been discarded when the haft-fitting broke, perhaps during or soon after its manufacture.
Both the antler tool and the aurochs bone have been radiocarbon dated. The results determined that the antler tool dates to 1618–1506 cal. BC (SUERC-110492, 95.4% probability), confirming that it was probably made, used and deposited at the end of the Early Bronze Age. A closely similar tool, also probably dating to the Early Bronze Age, is that recorded from a bowl barrow at Durrington, Wiltshire.
Antler was utilised for pick-type tools from the mesolithic period through into the Bronze Age. Although numerous perforated antler picks with an oblique working-edge are known, the function of these simple tools is still uncertain. They have been variously referred to as axes, adzes, mattocks, wedges and picks. A total of 83 such finds have so far been identified from across Britain, and it is generally supposed they were used for digging rather than woodworking. Use of radiocarbon dating has found that examples range in date from the Mesolithic through to the Bronze Age periods.
Assistant Finds Officer