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
3.5 Use and meaning of Keile in hunter-gatherer territory

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).