Rhagor - Opening our national collections

A Stone Age masterpiece - A Mace-head from North Wales

[image: The Maesmor mace-head.]

The Maesmor mace-head. Discovered in 1840, this artefact was initially thought to be either an Arch Druid's sacrificial hammer, or a war mace belonging to a Celtic chief.

[image: Detail of the carving on the Maesmor mace-head, showing a rare flaw in the design where two chevrons are broken (see centre of image).]

Detail of the carving on the Maesmor mace-head, showing a rare flaw in the design where two chevrons are broken (see centre of image).

[image: Mace-heads]

Mace-heads from Ogmore (Vale of Glamorgan), Y Fron (Flintshire), and Sker House (Bridgend). The majority of mace-heads made around 2500BC are comparatively simple and undecorated. Examples like these ones have been found throughout Wales.

It is easy to think of the Stone Age as a period in which life was nasty, brutish and short. The Maesmor mace-head from North Wales is proof that it was not always so.

Mace-heads like this one were made around 2500BC, and were typically used for combat, elaborate mace heads were also created as ceremonial objects and symbols of power within Stone Age tribes.

Many mace-heads have been found in Wales. For the most part they have been discovered by chance, having been disturbed from the spot at which they were lost or discarded. However, occasionally they are found with burials, including one example from Wiltshire, which was found with a body that had been adorned with gold and bone ornaments.

A symbol of power and wealth

This has led to the suggestion that mace-heads were symbols of power and were held by people with status. It is easy to imagine that this would have been true of the Maesmor mace-head since, if its owner had only wanted something to use as a club he could have saved himself a lot of trouble by drilling a hole in a pebble and mounting that on the wooden handle.

Instead, a large piece of white flint - a rare stone in Denbighshire where the mace-head was found - was cut roughly into shape. Then a hole was drilled through the tough stone, probably using a bow drill with lots of sand and water. This hole was where the handle would have originally have fitted.

Skilled workmanship

But the real skill was the cutting and shaping the elaborate design on the sides of the mace-head. This was probably also done using the side of a bow drill to score the overlapping grooves.

This process must have taken the maker many tens of hours of work, slowly but gradually shaping first the rough outline, then grinding a hole through the stone before carving out the elaborate decoration on the sides.

The finished mace-head must have been much admired by its owner - possibly the elder of a community, a chieftain, or possibly just a craftsman revelling in his own skill.

Whoever owned the Maesmor mace-head, it demonstrates that even in the Stone Age there was time to make art and time to appreciate it. Luckily, the decoration that took so much effort and time to create is still able to be appreciated thousands of years later.

Article Date: 14 May 2007

3 comments

Lynn on 6 July 2011, 09:28

This is a beautiful collection of remarkable mace-heads from the distant past, and a very interesting story and explanation of how our ceremonial maces came about. Thank you - I really enjoyed this, and learned from it.

Andrew T Young on 15 June 2009, 09:05

Suggesting that a neolithic macehead belonged to an 'Arch Druid' is misleading the public.

There is no evidence for the existence of 'druids' prior to the Iron Age and absolutely no evidence that maceheads were a badge of office for them.

This is a very subjective and misleading description and not supported by any archaeological evidence.

Lauryn on 20 November 2008, 11:36

I think that this is so cool!! I have 2 do a report on this for History and I was looking at some of the interesting things that I saw!! Google is a very unique place to look things up on. It might lead you to some strange places but I sure do love it!!!!!!!!!!

From Lauryn Alisa McClain!!

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