Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Malone Hoard - Neolithic Axe Heads in Belfast and Car Crime in Carolina

The Malone Hoard is a collection of 19 polished axe heads. They were found on the grounds of Danesfort House on the Malone Road, Belfast. The present house was built for Samuel Barbour to the designs of William J Barre in 1864 and takes its name from an earlier rath or earthwork on the site. Although nothing survives of the archaeological site today, it is likely that it post-dated the deposition of the axe heads and was not directly connected to them. It was during the digging of the foundations that the axe heads, along with a number of urns, were found. When discovered, some of the axe heads were reported to have been found placed vertically in the earth. Once the house was completed, they were displayed in cabinets in the library. When Samuel died in 1879 his widow married Charles Duffin and the house remained in the family until the 1940s. After passing through a number of corporate owners, the house was refurbished in the late 1980s and is the current home of the United States consul-general in Belfast.

Coming back to the hoard itself, the axe heads are made of porcellanite, a stone with two main sources – Tievebulliagh, near Cushendall and Brockley, on Rathlin Island. It is generally thought that the axes are too large to have been used for any practical purpose and, instead, may have had ritualistic or ceremonial uses. The apparent lack of edge damage would seem to support this thesis, but I’m of a mind to question the ascription of everything we can’t fit in to being entirely functional and pedestrian as ‘ritual’. Like the peacock’s display of tail feathers, I can easily visualise a determined swain producing the largest, finest axe heads that he could possibly manage, to turn the head of his desired. Kind of a ‘you know what they say about chaps with giant porcellanite axe heads *wink wink nudge nudge etc*’.

Alternately it could have been a case of ‘What do you mean ‘centimeters’? … the design drawings clearly said ‘inches’! … Oh, I may as well just dump them in a hole in the ground!’

The axes are today on display in the Ulster Museum, on the Stranmillis Rd., Belfast – just a mile away from where they were found.

Crime & Punishment
In doing what may be laughingly called ‘research’ for this micro post, I googled ‘Malone Hoard’ and found a 2012 news report from Charlestown County, South Carolina, that mentioned a teenager arrested for breaking in to cars. This magnificently monikered young man is none other than Mr Travis Malone Hoard - a name that many an archaeologist would love to sport. After a little further research, it would appear that the young Mr Malone Hoard was sent to jail in 2014 for possession of Cocaine and Unlawful carrying of a firearm. Things haven't improved for him as he was charged in April 2016 for robbery, a weapons offence, two counts of kidnapping, and assaulting/resisting arrest. At one level, I do hope this guy gets his act together & gives up on a life of crime … but the other side is that I wonder how many times he googled himself, only to be presented with a collection of rather magnificent stone axes …

My knowledge of the history of Danesfort House is largely based on the Lord Belmont in Northern Ireland blog, for which I am immensely grateful.

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