IT’S a mystery that could shed light on life in Hampshire 6,000 years ago.

Four Stone Age axes, dating from a time when people had stopped hunting woolly mammoths and sabretoothed tigers and turned to farming, are giving clues to the origins of settled human life in the county.

They were found at Hill Head and Titchfield, near Fareham, and at Beaulieu, in the New Forest, and Bartonon- Sea.

The tools, which are now in Winchester City Council’s collection, have been analysed and found to originate in the north Italian Alps from around 4,000BC. They had been carried for many miles before they were lost in Hampshire. But no-one knows why or how they got here.

Helen Rees, Winchester’s curator of archaeology, said their origins were a mystery.

“There was probably a movement of people and the axes were brought in by settlers or they may have been traded,”

The research is part of Project JADE, a three-year, one-million-euro programme, which is funded by the French Government.

The analysis, undertaken at the British Museum, measured the electro-magnetic radiation in the axes.

The results can then be compared with those for rocks from known sources.

In 2003, extraction sites for the distinctive and beautiful green stone, known as jadeite, were discovered high up in the North Italian Alps by the pioneering archaeologists, Pierre and Anne-Marie Pétrequin.

The Hampshire axes were found to be from this source and so they had travelled many miles.

The axes date from the Neolithic period, a time of great change that saw the first farmers arrive in Britain from north-western Europe.

Researchers believe that jadeite axes were valued not just for their practical uses but also for magical properties.

These were conferred by their origin in places where earth meets sky; where this world meets that of the gods and spirits.

Comparisons with the continent show that the axes were old when they arrived in Hampshire. Along with the seed corn needed to grow crops, and domesticated animals, the settlers brought their treasured heirlooms to remind them of the magical places far away and to bring good luck in the new land.

Patricia Stallard, city council Cabinet member for culture and sport, said: “Once again, science has put flesh on the bones of a fascinating story about our ancestors and pointed up the value of Winchester Museums’ reserve collections.”

Meanwhile, a fifth specimen, from Shawford Down, near Winchester, which was recently donated to the museum, was pronounced by researchers to be “probably not Alpine”. Further work is under way to see if it might be British.