Mystery of the Neolithic Tridents
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.