Object of the Week

Cauldron Snout Stone Axe

In May 1910, Joseph Maughan of East Pastures, Skelton-in-Cleveland, found this axe embedded in dark coloured clay below the surface of the River Tees whilst fishing at Cauldron Snout.

By June, Ed Wooler of Darlington had examined the stone and sent a report to the Newcastle Antiquarian Society with his assessment and conclusions. He thought it was a pre-historic import of a jadeite axe, which can range in colour from yellow grey, white, to every shade of green; there is a similar looking axe in the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Between 1910 and 1926, the object remained with Mr Maughan, at which point he donated it to Whitby Museum. It was labelled and displayed (see picture) in the then customary way.

In 1965, the axe was re-examined by W. Campbell Smith of the Natural History Museum and he concluded that it was in fact not jade but an altered chert or flint, being porous with a white, powdery surface. Despite it no longer being a rare import but of a likely regional limestone, the axe was still of interest and was loaned to Durham University’s Archaeology Museum in the 1980s. It remained there and was forgotten.

Though the committee minutes recorded the loan, there was no other paperwork, no computer catalogue and no registrar then. Durham University got in touch in 2013 asking if Whitby Museum would gift the axe to them, extend the loan or if it should be returned. The loan was extended in 2014 for another five years but in November 2020, Durham University confirmed that they wanted to return it. It is now back in the Museum and I hope will be displayed again even though its relevance to Whitby as an axe is low but its 20th–century story is curious.

The second picture is of the original box with the new box in which Durham returned the axe with their label: an object itself of interest for social history.

Christiane Kroebel

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