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Neolithic Tridents

Mystery of the Neolithic Tridents

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A museum in England has just placed two rare wooden tridents on display. The strange artefacts date back to Neolithic times and despite much analysis and debate, the use and purpose of the objects still eludes archaeologists who have been studying them since they were first uncovered in the England in 2009.

A trident, also called a trishula, is a three-pronged spear. In recent times, it has been used for spear fishing and was also a military weapon.  Many people associate the trident with the Greek god Poseidon, and his Roman equivalent, Neptune. These gods are both associated with the ocean, and they carried tridents as ceremonial staffs of office and as weapons.  Poseidon was known as the ‘Earth Shaker’ because when he struck the earth in anger with his trident he caused might earthquakes and could stir up tidal waves, tsunamis and sea storms.  The Hindu god Shiva is also sometimes depicted carrying a trident.

The 6000-year-old tridents are the first of their kind to have been found in the UK this century. A total of four other tridents were found in the UK in the nineteenth century – two in northwest England and two in Northern Ireland.  They are almost identical in design which suggests that tridents were designed and crafted very specifically, but for what exactly is unknown.

The recently discovered tridents measure over 2 metres in length and each has been expertly crafted from a single plank of mature split oak. They would have been heavy objects, seemingly built for their strength. Their shape resembles that of a modern culinary fork, with three parallel, straight-sided tines, but above the tines there is a well-marked ‘step’, the purpose of which is not obvious.

The tridents were uncovered in a multi-period prehistoric site to the west of the village of Stainton, in northeast England. An excavation project conducted at the site unearthed a large assemblage of finds dating from the end of the Mesolithic period and into the Neolithic period. Along with the tridents, archaeologists found various wooden and stone artefacts, including polished axe heads, burnt mounds, a sauna type structure, and fish traps.

Despite detailed study of the tridents, the function of these objects still remains a mystery. They do not appear to be well-suited for use as digging forks or fishing spears.  Researchers have compared the tridents to wooden forks of known function, but could not find any clear parallels.  Another theory was that they were covered in skin and used as boat paddles. However, there was no evidence for this and they do not seem ideally formed for use as paddles.

The tridents are currently on display in Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, Northwest England. 

By April Holloway



Hi All,

Since these Tridents are wooden perhaps they're early farm tool such as the pitch fork?

However Sea deities in Greece, India , & Rome perhaps in Neolithic England and Ireland they worshipped Sea deities and like as an example of the Catholic Churches and I think Orthodox Churches the Neolithic People carried those Tridents like an symbol of some mysterious Sea God they may have worshipped that we've not heard of.

It's incredible how far apart in discovery of these Tridents first in Britain then Ireland it's both astonishing and exciting.

These Tridents might not mean anything special unless they were used for ceremonial purposes at Stonehenge or in Ireland on mysterious Giant causeway these are the only reasons why possible the Wooden Tridents might have been used.

May be this could be used as weapon during Neolithic times and the line under trident could be used for hand rest from slipping. Could it be also possible that the God Shiva Trishul/Trident because God Shiva Trishul has Damaruk below the trident search google for string "trishul with damask" which has similar shape as the image above.

Maybe they just used them to clean the stalls of their livestock; exactly as people that live on farms and keep animals in barns do today. Straw and poop, that endless task... Less mystic perhaps, but more necessary and they appear well suited to the task.

I was thinking much the same thing; they were used to move/harvest long stemmed grains

they look like pitch forks. the step is probably to catch the twine on the bales so it doesn't slide all the way up the fork. looks like they would do loose hay too. the look very used but the smoothness that would have been caused by the friction of the hay stops where the contact with the hay would have stopped.


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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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