Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 4-1 (October 2012)Leo Verhart: Contact in stone: adzes, Keile and Spitzhauen in the Lower Rhine Basin1

3 Perforated Rössen Keile

3.1 Introduction: heavy duty implements

next section

The successors of the Bandkeramik people extended the already known but not widely practised technique of stone perforation to high adzes of large dimensions and so developed the heavy ‘perforated high shoe last adze’ and the slightly less sophisticated durchlochte Breitkeil or ‘perforated broad wedge’. These implements have a wide distribution over the Dutch and North German plain, outside the known distribution area of the Rössen culture.

It is first of all remarkable that the receiving Swifterbant and Ertebølle communities managed to obtain these implements, which were highly valued by their producers, and that in considerable numbers, and not only the ‘left-overs’, but also first rate quality implements. However the extreme long ones, in the Rössen area probably used in a more social/ceremonial manner, are totally absent. The producers derived prestige from the exotic material and for the receivers the new forms and technology may in this perspective be added, apart from utilitarian use. How were they obtained? What may have been given as counter value? To what extent may we consider the transaction as a reciprocal exchange relation? To what counter values? May the wider distribution indeed be viewed as a down-the-line exchange or should we consider alternatives? A major drawback in answering such questions is the lack of find contexts. Most information has to be distracted from the artefacts themselves, from their dimensions, traces of use, secondary working, find locations and distribution patterns.

3.2 The Keile in general


Generally in the Hinkelstein-Großgartach-Rössen complex two main types of heavy perforated implements are distinguished: the hohe durchlochte Schuhleistenkeil or ‘perforated high shoe last adze’ and the durchlochte Breitkeil or ‘perforated broad wedge’ (Brandt 1967; Klassen 2004; Raemaekers et al. 2011; Van der Waals 1972). (fig. 4). Both are characterized by a conical shaft hole near the butt end and parallel to the cutting edge. The butt varies in shape and may display modest to severe use damage.


Figure 4 From left to right: hohe durchlochte Schuhleistenkeil from Emmen-Bargererfscheidenveen and Breitkeile from Oud-Schoonebeek and Spijk. Scale 1:3 (after Van der Waals 1972 , Tafel 42, 43).

The hohe durchlochte Schuhleistenkeil has a D-shaped cross-section and one symmetry axis at a right angle to the cutting edge and the shaft hole. The thickness/width ratio exceeds 1:1. ‘Width’ is defined at right angles to the axis; ‘thickness’ or ‘height’ is parallel to it, as with LBK adzes.

The Breitkeil has a more or less rectangular cross-section and a symmetry axis parallel to the shaft hole and the cutting edge. The width – in this case defined as the dimension at a right angle to the axis (!) – exceeds thickness. The symmetry is, however, rarely perfect, probably as a result of use wear, damage and repair.

There have been several attempts to create finer subdivisions. The Keile have been subdivided into triangular and bügeleisenförmige (flat-iron) specimens (Brandt 1967, 1995; Lönne 2003). The latest contributions in this field are the studies by Merkel (Merkel 1999) with 6 types and Klassen with 15 types (Klassen 2004). Major drawbacks of these detailed typologies are the low numbers per type and the fact that the present shape of the artefact is the end of its ‘biography’. Most of them have been used, reworked and finally discarded as worn implements. Especially the hohe durchlochte Schuhleistenkeile changed in appearance by these processes. Often it is not possible to secure whether the implement originally was a hohe durchlochte Schuhleistenkeil. The longer the Breitkeil has been used, the shorter it will be and the more the length:width ratio will increase.[9] The cross-section is, however, much less affected by use, and so the distinction between the ‘perforated high shoe-last adze’ and the ‘broad wedge’ certainly has sense (Raemaekers et al. 2011, 3-5).

In this paper both main types have been taken together under the collective term Rössen Keile or ‘Keile’ for short, and are considered to represent the period between the LBK and the Michelsberg culture, 4950-4300 cal BC.


The hohe durchlochte Schuhleistenkeile are well dated to the post-Bandkeramik period from c. 4950 onward, since they are regularly found as grave gifts in Hinkelstein and Grossgartach cemeteries and are fully absent in LBK contexts (Farrugia 1992; Goller 1972; Lichardus-Itten 1980; Lönne 2003; Meier-Arendt 1975; Spatz 1999). The same applies to the durchlochte Breitkeile. This type gradually replaced the earlier one, but both seem to have been in use side by side for a long period and are generally considered to get out of use before the development of the Michelsberg culture (Lönne 2003; Raetzel-Fabian 1986). Keile seem however to continue for some centuries in the northern Swifterbant communities, as for instance demonstrated by fragments originating from one Keil at Swifterbant S3, dated c. 4300-4000 cal BC (Raemaekers 1999, 27).[10] Also in northern Germany and southern Scandinavia the use of Keile continues until ca. 4000 cal BC (Klassen 2004, Abb. 32). In eastern Holstein they were deposited in a restricted time span at the end of the fifth millennium BC (Hartz et al. 2011).

Raw material

The majority of Keile is made out of the same actinolite-hornblende schist as the LBK adzes, with possible primary sources in the western Carpathians (Slovakia) and the High Balkan (Bulgaria), as revealed in the research by Schwartz-Mackensen and Schneider (1986, 29, 33; 1983, 174-175) mentioned earlier. The workshops, as mentioned before in the section on raw materials for the LBK adzes, have been discovered more to the west at Jistebsko in the Jizera Mountains, Bohemia, northeast of Prague (Prostředník et al. 2005; Christensen et al. 2006).

Besides these imports more local rocks were used as well. The majority of Breitkeile in south-eastern Lower Saxony are made of amphibolite, but greywacke, diabase, granite and basalt occur as well (Lönne 2003, 166, 173).[11] In the Dutch province of Drenthe 2 out of 15 of the Keile found had been made from gneiss, possibly derived from the local boulder clay deposits, all others are made of amphibolite and amphibolite-like rocks (Beuker et al. 1992).

Production and acquisition

Hoards are wide-spread over Central Europe and may comprise various implements in different stages of working, from roughly worked blocks with and without shaft hole to completely finished specimens. Well-known examples are the Čištĕves hoard in Bohemia (Venčl 1975) and the Schladen hoard in Lower Saxony (Lönne 2003, Abb. 80). They demonstrate that the Keile have not been distributed ready-made, but as raw material and rough-outs, at least into Central Europe. The rough-outs usually received further working in the settlements. An exceptional find in the Lower Rhine Basin is a fully pecked rough-out with traces of sawing in a Rössen settlement at Maastricht-Randwijck. It is a clear indication of in situ working, but similar examples from abroad are not known or have not been published (Louwe Kooijmans 1988, 2005, fig. 12.7). On the other hand part of the Keile could have been made out of already shaped and finished artefacts to adapt to local traditions. The basic form was obtained by occasional sawing, by pecking and grinding, but the final finish quite often was incomplete. Traces of the original pecked surface and traces of working, such as saw cuts, are either only partially ground off or still clearly visible.

At last the conical shaft hole was made with the aid of a hollow drill. A hollow was made first by pecking, where the wood or bone drill head was placed. This preliminary treatment can be deduced from the pecked surface at the rounded edge of the shaft hole that is still visible on some specimens. Experiments, too, have demonstrated the importance of this preliminary treatment (Lessig 1999; Vosgerau 1983-84). Subsequently the drilling was executed, probably with the aid of a drill bow in order to obtain a high speed. By adding water and sand a shaft hole was drilled. Experiments have demonstrated that in a hard type of rock like diabase a drill depth of 8 mm could be reached in 80 minutes. A shaft hole in a Breitkeil with a depth of 40 mm could be made in a single day (Vosgerau 1983-84). Drilling with a hollow bone drill on location is illustrated by the large numbers of drill cores in the settlement waste at the Rössen settlement sites (Lönne 2000). The perforation was, however, not always successful to judge from the number of discontinued perforations.


The dimensions of the conical shaft holes range from 11-15 mm to a maximum (and quite normal) of 32-35 mm (Lönne 2000; Merkel 1999).

Recovered remnants of handles provide information about the hafting technique. A Breitkeil with a wooden handle is known from the excavations at Hüde I (Deichmüller 1965). The handle was made of hazelwood. The renewed investigation in 2000 and 2001 at Rosenhof site LA 58 yielded a Breitkeil with a remnant of the handle in the shaft hole, made of rosewood (Hartz 2004, 70, Abb. 4).

A striking aspect is the relatively narrow shaft hole in relation to the weight of a Breitkeil. The types of wood recovered (hazel and rose) are not particularly known for their application in handles. Usually a type of wood is selected for its particular favourable qualities. Hence (Neolithic) axe handles have preferably been made of ash (Louwe Kooijmans & Kooistra 2006, 234). The handles of Keile differ in this respect.

Function and use

Many functions for the Breitkeile have been suggested in the course of time, ranging from plough coulter or ard share, to battle axe, hack, axe and wedge (e.g. Buttler 1938, Mariën 1948, Raemaekers et al. 2011; Van der Waals 1972). Most have been refuted and need no further discussion. As the main options the various forms of woodworking are left. Being the successors of the LBK adzes, in stone type used, in morphology and in social prestige one is inclined to consider a similar function, but then in a different execution.

A major condition for the effectiveness of an artefact as a cutting or chopping tool is symmetry. In general this condition is fulfilled, be it that both types have a different symmetry: that of adze and axe. The shaft hole is, however, rather narrow and so the haft not suited to swing the hafted Keil as a normal axe or adze. This has been demonstrated by experiments, in which Breitkeile were used as a wedge to cleave wood and as an axe. In most instances the tools turned out to be quite ineffective (Lessig 1999; Meier 1990; Raemaekers et al. 2011; Vosgerau 1983-84). It was demonstrated that a 260 mm long Breitkeil could be used for cutting into a chopped down tree, but precision proved to be quite low (Meier 1990). This was attributed to the large weight of the axe blade. Additional problems were swinging the blade and securing the handle in the shaft hole and consequently chopping down a tree was almost impossible. It is perfectly clear that these experiments did not copy the real use. In the experiments undertaken by Raemaekers two Breitkeile were broken while felling a tree (Raemaekers et al. 2011, 9).

This brings us finally by a frequently suggested interpretation that Breitkeile have been used as wedges for cleaving wood. There are however not so many experiments carried out to test several options (Böhm & Pleyer 1990; Meier 1990; Raemaekers et al. 2011), but the damage, especially at the butt end, may be a clue for its utilitarian function, but as far as known, no (microscopic) use wear study has been executed. The wedge could be placed and held in the proper position by means of the handle.

The length of Breitkeile will have decreased due to use. Most damage has been found at the cutting edge and butt (Raemaekers et al. 2011, 9-10; Van der Waals 1972, 159-160). The damage, especially of the cutting edge, has mostly been counteracted by grinding. The butt however very often has not been reworked, as a consequence of which damage caused by heavy strokes has remained visible. This implies that the location of the shaft hole in relation to the butt, and the distance between shaft hole and butt, are original and not changed by later repair activities.

Traces on the butts show that a large number of the Breitkeile are used. These wear traces varies from incidental impacts to severe ones caused by hammering. The last are however rare. This implies that cutting and cleaving wood seems to be the main activities employed with these implements. The stone wedge could in this last option be placed in the proper position by means of the handle.

Within the group of Keile some perforated axes are standing out because of their exceptional length, often in combination with a rather narrow shaft hole. Some are over 40 cm long. They are only found in the Rössen occupation area, mainly in hoards (Raemaekers et al. 2011, 18, fig. 8 and 9). This raises the question whether Keile had also a non-utilitarian function. In other words did they play a role in the social domain as ceremonial axes? A clay figurine from Szegvár-Tüzköves, Hungary (Tisza Culture) of a man with a large perforated axe over the right shoulder may be a illustration of this (Trogmayer 1990).

In the Rössen culture area Keile are also found in graves. They are frequently recovered from male graves which indicate that they can be regarded as personal items of the diseased (Raemaekers et al. 2011, 16). In that respect a social connotation can also play a role.

3.3 The Keile outside the Rössen culture area


Van der Waals (1972) was the first to make an overview of the finds in the Lower Rhine Basin, inspired by the publications on southern Scandinavia (Lomborg 1962) and Lower Saxony (Brandt 1967) and by the discovery of the first Swifterbant sites in the Dutch central polder district. The rather dense distribution offered for the first time a view on the widespread occupation by communities now known as ‘Swifterbant’, at that time only known from the site Hüde I at the Dümmer and the Swifterbant discoveries themselves. Van der Waals observed that 22 out of 28 specimens with reliable find circumstances had been found in or close to low-lying areas or rivers.[12] He saw this correlation as reflecting a preference for the occupation of these zones, which could be understood in view of the supposed coverage of the upland with a dense forest in these times.

The distribution map of Van der Waals was supplemented by Raemaekers (1999, 104, App. 4) and expanded with the Lower Saxony and Rhineland data (Louwe Kooijmans 1993b; Verhart 2000). The most recent detailed distribution map is provided by Raemaekers et al ., but with the exception for the Netherlands of the province of Limburg (Raemaekers et al. 2011, fig. 10). The number of Keile in Netherlands is much higher than in Belgium and the complete implements dominate (Table 1).

Table 1 The number of Breitkeile by country divided in fragments and complete artefacts with and without known dimensions








Complete (no dimensions)













Figure 5 Distribution of Rössen Keile in the Lower Rhine Basin. German data (blue) after Brandt 1967 . Dutch data and Belgian (red) after Van der Waals 1972 , Raemaekers 1999 , Verhart 2000 , with additions. Legend: Yellow: loess, Red: Rössen Culture settlement areas.

Two patterns can be made out in the overall distribution of the Keile (fig. 5). First there is a rather even spread all over the northern part of the Lower Rhine Basin, continuing in western part of northern Germany (Brandt 1967, Karte 2, 6; Klassen 2004, Abb. 31). In the central part of northern Germany, Denmark and southern Sweden the find density also decreases to the north, but more zones with concentrations are visible in contrast to areas with hardly any finds (Klassen 2004, Abb. 31). Exceptional is the concentration around Hamburg, which is probably the result of purchasing from antique dealers who claimed that the finds were originating from the river Elbe. The concentration in the province of Limburg may relate to the short distance to the Rössen settlement zone.

The distribution shows secondly a sharp boundary to the west, with only a few finds west of an imaginary line Amsterdam-Liège. The unfavourable recovery conditions for stray axes in the Holocene wetlands of the western Netherlands will play a part in the north. The quasi absence all over Belgium to the west of the Limburg Meuse zone may relate to the different culture sphere: Blicquy in the west and Rössen in the east, each with northern contact spheres of their own. Long lasting north-south relations have been demonstrated in the western (Blicquy and its successors) sphere for the period 5500-3500 cal BC for settlement sites in the Rhine/Meuse delta, in the form of raw material acquisition and artefact typology (Louwe Kooijmans 1993a). They cannot be visualized on the map, since no implements comparable to the Keile had been involved. But it remains intriguing that (prestigious?) implements, which found their way so far north in the eastern sphere, were apparently not appreciated as such at a relative short distance to the west.

Find conditions, context

The divergent ratios between complete and fragmented Keile in different regions are to some extent determined by settlement research, but seem to reflect for a great deal different ways of use and handling Keile.

In the Lower Rhine Basin Keile have been found almost exclusively isolated and as surface finds (Raemaekers et al. 2011). Fragments are relatively rare, partly because these are less easily recognized by a layman. In contrast to the other areas considered, hardly any evidence for their use has come to light in the large-scale excavation of Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic sites conducted in recent years. Both in Hardinxveld-Giessendam-De Bruin and Hoge Vaart these artefacts have not been found (Louwe Kooijmans 2001a, 2001b; Hogestijn & Peeters 2001). Of course the low number of excavated sites in the Lower Rhine Basin compared to the higher number in Scandinavia can also be of relevance in this conclusion. There is only one distinct fragment from Swifterbant-S3[13] and two complete specimens have been recovered earlier at Hüde (Deichmüller 1965, 10). The quasi absence of fragments in the Dutch sites may be related to their marginal western position in the Rössen sphere, mentioned above. We may, however, conclude that Keile were treated in a different way than in the other regions, and perhaps were used more off site.

In Denmark many more settlements have been excavated and almost half of all broken specimens derive from these sites (Klassen 2004, Fundliste 1). The fragments are relatively large pieces (>5.5 cm).

The find conditions in the Rössen culture area itself are quite different, as has been well documented for the south-eastern part of Lower Saxony by Lönne (2003). Keile are found in settlements in worn condition and as fragments, demonstrating their intensive use at the settlement location itself. They are found off-site mainly as stray finds in Lower Saxony. Others have been grave gifts or were found in hoards. These last categories reflect, apart from their utilitarian function, also their symbolic importance.


Judging from hoard finds and seemingly unused specimens pristine Keile may have reached a length of 350-400 mm, but a length of c. 300 mm seems more normal practice.[14]. However the width of Keile in the Lower Rhine Basin shows quite some variation (fig. 9). There is tendency of increasing width in relation to the length, but the variation in width suggests that the original length could vary also.

In the hoard of Schladen (Landkreis Wolfenbüttel) a semi-manufactured Breitkeil has been found with a length of 370 mm (Schwarz-Mackensen & Schneider 1983). In the Möckern hoard the longest item is 345 mm (Hoffmann 1955). An extremely long specimen from Euskirchen, without any additional find data, has a length of 421 mm.[15] Their length, heavy weight and pristine condition raise the question whether these long Keile were still utilitarian tools.

In the course of their use Breitkeile were worn, damaged, broken and repaired, resulting in ever shorter specimens and a wide range in length, as reflected in the metric diagrams. The shortest, in the final stage of a long process of use, appear to consist in some cases almost entirely of a shaft hole surrounded by a tiny bit of stone, as exemplified by a specimen from Spijk (Van der Waals 1972, G.8).[16]

The complete Keile found in the Netherlands and Belgium – all isolated finds – range from 90 to 327 mm, for specimens from Gennep and Echt respectively, with an average of 154 mm. Their dimensions have been displayed in a series of graphs (figs 6, 7, 8, 9). The largest number lies in the length category 120-140 mm. The values of width are close together and do not show any extremes (fig. 7). The width of the axes (30-90 mm) could be the result of the original length or prolonged use and wear. Especially the wider variation of the smaller implements seems to be the result of prolonged use, with retouching, pecking and grinding, hardly affecting the cross section.


Figure 6 Length of Rössen Keile in the Lower Rhine Basin.


Figure 7 Length/width ratio of Rössen Keile in the Lower Rhine Basin.

Interregional comparison of these data may inform us on the eventual selection of axes distributed to the north and so on the processes of their distribution.

The detailed study by Lönne (2003) in the Göttingen region (south-eastern part of Lower Saxony) provides information on the dimensions of Breitkeile within a Rössen territory and its immediate vicinity. All Breitkeile have been described, both isolated finds and those from settlement context. The length of the complete implements – in different stages of use – ranges from to 80 to 315 mm with an average of 145 mm, very similar to the Lower Rhine Basin data. (fig. 8) There is hardly any difference in dimensions between Breitkeile recovered as isolated finds and those from settlements.


Figure 8 Length/width ratio of Rössen Keile in Lower Saxony.


Figure 9 Smoothed histograms of the length/width ratio of Rössen Keile in the Lower Rhine Basin (yellow) and south-eastern Lower Saxony (blue) showing that the Dutch Breitkeile are on average slightly shorter than those from Lower Saxony.

A statistical analysis of the data with a kernel density method, displayed in smoothed histograms, visualizes the slight difference between both regions (fig. 9).[17] Both graphs display single-peak distributions that differ at most four centimetres. The length of Lower Saxony Breitkeile displays a normal distribution with a peak between 135-175 mm; for Dutch specimens this is 95-135 mm. So the Dutch Breitkeile are on average slightly shorter than those from Lower Saxony, most probably slightly more worn out.

The 30 complete Breitkeile found in Denmark and southern Sweden vary in length between 115 and 219 mm, with an average of 161 mm (Klassen 2004, Fundliste 1). In this case south-eastern Lower Saxony is a very plausible source. From northern Germany 70 Keile are known, 93 to 385 mm in length, with an average of 167 mm (Klassen 2004, Fundliste 1).[18] The North German implements show rather identical ratios as those in Lower Rhine Basin area with a large variation in length and some small worn-out Keile. In Denmark and southern Sweden there is less variation in length. The large Keile apparently did not reach these regions. Very small and worn ones are missing as well.

The comparison of two districts within the research area of the Lower Rhine Basin at increasing distance to the Rössen culture area may inform us on eventual down-the-line distribution. So two southern provinces, Belgian and Dutch Limburg (at 20-75 km) are compared to the northern provinces of Friesland and Drenthe (at 150-200 km). The Keile have nearly identical dimensions in both regions. Their lengths range between 100 and 250 mm, but in Limburg there is one longer specimen (fig. 10). Shorter specimens have been found in both regions. So there appears to be no loss in quality with increasing distance on this scale and no indications for down-the-line exchange in the Lower Rhine Basin.


Figure 10 Length/width ratio of Rössen Keile in the Lower Rhine Basin.above: in the northern provinces of Friesland and Drenthe,below: in the southern provinces of Belgian and Dutch Limburg.

3.4 Changing patterns in distribution and contact

The distribution of LBK adzes and Keile illustrate the contacts between farmers and hunter/gatherers. The find of an amber pendant in the well of Kückhoven is an illustration of connections with the Baltic region (Gronenborn 2005, 2010). The wider distribution of Keile as compared to that of the adzes is an indicator for a wider range of these contacts. The higher intensity is the result of a longer time span presumably in combination with increasing contact. There are however additional other contact indicators as well.

Long lasting relations between south and north can be deduced from the distribution of Wommersom quartzite, originating from an outcrop between Tienen and Sint Truiden in Belgium, and exploited from the early Mesolithic onward, especially in the middle and late Mesolithic. Its most northern expansion was just to the north of the rivers Meuse and Rhine (Arora 1979; Van Oorsouw 1993).

We owe other indicators to the closed stratigraphical context and the conditions at the earliest sites in the wetlands of the Rhine/Meuse delta. Long-term relations with the south from the late Mesolithic onwards are revealed there in the acquisition of raw materials, like flint, pyrite, haematite and rock from distant regions far to the south (Louwe Kooijmans 2005, 2006).

Other evidence from the same contexts is, first, a LBK arrow-head at the river dune Polderweg in Hardinxveld-Giessendam, already mentioned in the former paragraph, indicating an very early contact shortly after LBK colonists had settled in South-Limburg in 5300 cal. BC. A second southern link is documented by a relative small number of bone-tempered pottery sherds in phase 2 at the river dune De Bruin in Hardinxveld-Giessendam, dated to the early 5th millennium (Raemaekers 2001). Of these sherds 27 are decorated in techniques and motives characteristic for Blicquy pottery of southern Belgium. They probably belong to a restricted number of vessels. One, undecorated pot with double perforated lugs has no Blicquy but Grossgartach affinities.

The lack of evidence of north-south contacts in the intermediate space will be strictly due to bad preservation.

Rössen Pottery

Pottery has also been retrieved outside the Rössen culture area, but only in small numbers and its distribution is very limited. Some isolated Rössen pottery finds have been published from Middle Limburg (Bloemers 1972, Brounen 1985), and documentation of amateur collections resulted in more sites, but their number is still very low.[19] Some alleged Rössen pottery sherds found at Aalten, north of the river Rhine, c. 50 km to the west of the Rössen habitation near Duisburg (Schut 1987), appear factually to be Late Bronze Age.[20]

Farther east some imported Rössen vessels have been retrieved at Hüde (Germany), at a distance of c. 40 km to the north of another Rössen habitation centre (Kampffmeyer 1983).

In view of the scarcity of pottery outside Rössen territory we have no alternative than to evaluate the distribution of Keile to find out more about the nature of the contacts between hunter-gatherer communities and early farmers in the Lower Rhine Basin.

Distribution analysis

The occurrence over a wide area of Keile and the distribution pattern indicate that theft and scavenging at abandoned Rössen sites can be excluded as the major process behind the distribution of these artefacts. This leads to the conclusion that farmers must have exchanged their Keile with local groups around the agrarian settlements. We can think of ‘forest products’, raw materials, labour and women as valuable commodities in return. From these groups in close contact with the Rössen farmers the Keile found their way to their hinterland.

The spatial distribution and characteristics of the Keile in the Lower Rhine Basin have been opposed to the model of down-the-line-exchange. In that case there should be an absence of production debris, artefacts should decrease in number and size with distance from the source, the objects should be more fragmented and could have gained a different meaning (Appadurai 1986; Renfrew 1982; Verhart 2000, 2009). The distribution of Keile in the Lower Rhine Basin however, shows none of these aspects. The only trend to be observed is that the Keile outside the Rössen occupation area are a little smaller and more worn.

There is another aspect, which informs us about the background of acquisition. The Keile with secondary hour-glass shaped shaft hole, found outside the Rössen habitation area, in the territory of the hunter-gatherers, show that the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, who had acquired a Keil (or fragment), were not acquainted with the way the primary shaft holes had been made, or maintained their traditional practise of making shaft hole by pecking. This last option is plausible explanation for secondary hourglass-shaped shaft holes made by people living close to the Rössen habitation centres, as demonstrated by the Colmont specimen in southern Limburg (Brounen 1997). They could have had direct access to the farming communities living at a distance of 25 km and could have observed the Rössen technique of drilling with a hollow drill.

The majority of the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers were not in immediate direct contact with the producers of the Keile. These artefacts were distributed from hand to hand over the area occupied by them. Important information how Keile were made was not transferred by the Rössen communities or by groups living close in their neighbourhood.

It is not possible to determine whether the breakage of the artefacts had taken place originally in the Rössen area or at the location were the Keile were found. The new shaft holes were not made in the Rössen technique, with a hollow drill, but with the traditional Mesolithic pecking technique. This implies that Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, who had a Keil in their possession, and were living more to the north, were unaware of how shaft holes had to be made.

3.5 Use and meaning of Keile in hunter-gatherer territory

Keile are quite rare regarding the total number and time span in which they were used, so these artefacts do not belong to the standard tool range of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. The Mesolithic tool range comprises moreover good functional equivalents in bone and antler. Wear traces on

Keile in the Lower Rhine Basin are identical with the ones, which can be seen on Keile found in the Rössen occupation area. It is not possible to determine of these wear traces originate from the Rössen region itself or are the result of activities exploited in the Lower Rhine Basin.

These artefacts could have a similar function in both regions: cutting and cleaving wood. The Keile in the Lower Rhine Basin however, are with one exception not recovered in settlements and are also not known from graves or hoards. Most specimens are stray finds and often found in the low lying - wet - areas of the landscape suggesting deliberate deposition. Raemaekers et al. (2010, 21-24) made clear that complete Keile were often deposited in the low lying areas of the landscape, despite the low number of finds with detailed information about find circumstances in their study area. A quarter of all Keile was found in low lying locations, while c. 30% was found on higher land, the supposed area for settlements (Raemaekers et al. 2011, table 7).

This raises the question whether these artefacts, apart from being utilitarian implements, played also a role in the social domain. Exotic objects and materials have always exerted a major attraction, often also associated with a higher appreciation (Taffinder 1998). As such the possession of exotic objects, or control over their distribution, may cause an increase in prestige. Keile belong in this category because of their appearance and raw material, despite the fact that they are worn. In this respect Keile may have been given an additional meaning in hunter-gatherer society, as compared to the Rössen culture, especially in graves and hoards.

Secondary shaft holes

It appears that Keile, robust as they may be, were rather frequently broken across the shaft hole. In those cases a new shaft hole may have been made. Within the Rössen culture area the new shaft hole was executed in the traditional way with a hollow drill, in no respect different from primary shaft holes (see Lichardus 1976, Taf. 10c). Parts of the original shaft hole remained still visible at the (new) butt in some cases. That such items, ‘in their second life’, found their way to the west/north is demonstrated by specimens from Helmond-Stiphoutsbroek (Arts 1994, fig. 11), Montfort and Elsloo (Brounen 1997).


Figure 11 Examples of Rössen Keile with secondary shaft holes. From left to right: Stiphoutsbroek, with conical shaft hole (after Arts 1994 ); Elsloo, with conical shaft hole (after Brounen 1997 ); Colmont, with hourglass-shaped shaft hole from Colmont (after Brounen 1997 ).

In the northern regions, outside the Rössen zone, in contrast, hourglass-shaped shaft holes were (attempted to be) made by means of a pecking technique in a number of cases. This practice is unknown in the area investigated by Lönne in Lower Saxony (Lönne 2003). Examples of hourglass-shaped shaft holes have been published from Denmark, among others from Skalagerbanke and Gåbense-Faergegård (Fischer 2002, fig. 22.17). In the Netherlands a specimen was found at Colmont, southern Limburg (Brounen 1997). A remarkable large fragment of a high bandkeramik adze from Voerendaal-Vrakelberg, showing an attempt to make an hourglass-shaped shaft hole by means of pecking, may be interpreted as a reworked scavenged artefact (Brounen 1997). Both sites are at a distance of only 30 km from the Rössen settlement cluster at the Aldenhovener Platte.

Meaning, alternatives and ritual deposition

Assuming that the Keile in the Rhineland loess zone (the main source area for the Lower Rhine Basin), have similar specifications as those in south-eastern Lower Saxony then it is apparent that no positive or negative selection had taken place and that the indigenous people had a regular access to these highly valued tools. Three options for the background of this exchange can be distinguished. However, a preference for one of these options cannot be given.

The first option is that the axes were exchanged in a better condition, that part of the wear and damage results from use after exchange, and that the axes were valued for their functional qualities as well. Indications for their use are the secondary hourglass-shaped perforations and the recovery of – be it scarce – fragments. Apparently such shaft holes had a purpose and did suffice, as they did for the Geröllkeulen and Spitzhauen (see below). As such they are an indication for a prolonged use. But in order to use Keile for wood working, they should be fixed firmly to the handle and that seems hardly feasible in the case of Keile with this type of perforation. The second option is that the axe spectrum as available in Rössen settlements, from pristine to heavily worn, was exchanged, that they were not or hardly used by the indigenous recipients, and deposited in the same condition as received. This implies that the axes had first and for all a symbolic and no functional value for the new owners and could play a role as prestige object, as can be supported by ethnographic analogies (Appadurai 1986; Renfrew 1982; Taffinder 1998; Verhart 2000), parallel and in accordance to the ideas developed in southern Scandinavia and adjacent Germany (Lomborg 1962; Berlekamp 1969; Gramsch 1973; Fischer 1982, 2002; Merkel 1999; Lübke et al. 2000; Klassen 2002, 2004). The exotic character of the items, alternatives in the Mesolithic tool kit, the restricted numbers in hunter-gatherer territory and the long distance of exchange, are in favour for this option. The third option is an alternative functional explanation that the Keile were used as the head of a clubs. As such they could have been objects with a symbolic value or used in warfare. Violence is a well-documented element of Mesolithic society, but evidence that club heads were involved in these activities is lacking up till now. Only in hunting activities the use of clubs is well documented (Noe-Nygaard 1974).