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

2 Adzes

The hafted polished stone adze was introduced in the Lower Rhine Basin by the Bandkeramik farmers, who around 5300 cal BC settled the loess zone of the German Rhineland, southern Limburg and the Belgian Haspengouw. Stone adzes were not known in the preceding Late Mesolithic, in which period all heavy chopping equipment was made of bone and antler, as attested by the assemblage from Hardinxveld-Polderweg, phase 1 (Louwe Kooijmans 2001a). Preserved massive wooden planks, as those of the Kückhoven well, show that the LBK adzes were used to finish off the products of cleaving oak trees (Weiner 1998). The trees themselves must have been chopped down with these adzes as well, in view of the absence of stone axe blades. This option has been proven by experiments (Weiner 1986). So, adzes will have been essential tools in LBK society for chopping trees, woodland reclamation, building the large houses and modelling wood.

LBK adzes are the first implements, which found their way to the non-agrarian communities in the north, and which can be identified now as final or ‘terminal’ Mesolithic, and initial Swifterbant in the Lower Rhine Basin, Ertebølle in southern Scandinavia, as pointed out among others by Lomborg (1962) for Scandinavia and Brandt (1967) for Lower Saxony. The process behind their distribution in the Lower Rhine Basin and the meaning to be attached to it has however received limited attention, and mostly in not widely accessible publications (Brounen & de Jong 1988; Van der Graaf 1987; Louwe Kooijmans 1993b). It is this aspect this section will concentrate on.

2.1 LBK adzes in general

Typology and chronology

The adzes have been subject to several typological and typo-chronological studies. Initially two types were distinguished (fig. 1). When width exceeds thickness they were named flat adzes (Flachhacke), when thickness exceeds width shoe-last adzes (Schuhleistenkeile), or high adzes. Within the latter group a distinction is sometimes made between intermediate Flomborn adzes and the higher Hinkelstein adzes (Buttler 1938; Bakels 1987; Merkel 1999). Later, subdivisions were made on the basis of metric characteristics into two groups (Schietzel 1965), six groups (Modderman 1970, 184) and finally two groups again (Dohrn-Ihmig 1983). All typologies were based on the width-height ratio, while Modderman added the absolute dimension. The wide variation, from small to large and from flat to high adzes, certainly reflects a functional differentiation, but the various types do not appear to be of chronological significance. All types occur in all phases, but it is suggested that thick adzes became more popular in the final stage of the LBK (Bakels 1987, 60; Merkel 1999).[2] For this reason all adzes have been treated in this study as one group.


Figure 1 Adzes can be divided in two main groups: when width exceeds thickness they are named flat adzes (Flachhacke) (left); when thickness exceeds width they are called shoe-last adzes (Schuhleistenkeile), or high adzes (right). Scale 1:1 (after Bakels 1987 , Figure 1. Photo Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden).

The earliest stone shaft hole implements.[3]

The technique of drilling stone to make a shaft hole was already known as early as in the älteste Bandkeramik, as demonstrated by a broken Scheibenkeule out of serpentinite at the settlement of Schwanfeld (Hessen; Gronenborn 1997, Tafel 5.9) and a single small fragment in Langweiler 8,[4] dated to the beginning of the Rhineland LBK (Bakels 1987, 62). It however appears that the technique was only rarely applied on adzes, an early example being known from Langweiler 8 as well.[5] In this way the perforated flat adze – in German formerly named Plättbolzen – was created, with a shaft hole at right angles to the edge. The perforated flat adzes became more common in the post-LBK culture groups, Rössen included (Raetzel-Fabian 1986). So their occurrence in the north will be dealt with in the next section.

Raw materials

The study of the LBK adzes has especially focussed on the origins of the exotic raw materials used for these implements (Bakels 1987; Jadin & Hauzeur 2003). These are amphibolite, basalt and fine, high-silica rocks: quartzite and lydite. The amphibolite used is a dark greenish metamorphic rock with foliated structure, a stone type, which is very resistant to blows and as such very suited for wood cutting implements. No local source could be identified for it and a provenance of these adzes to the east of the Lower Rhine Basin seems the most likely (Bakels 1987, 67). Petrographical analysis of adzes from the German Harz area proved most of these factually to have been made from actinolite-hornblende schist, which is a more precise term than the more general ‘amphibolite’ (Schwartz-Mackensen & Schneider 1983, 174-175; 1986). The source of this raw material should be found in the western Carpathians (Slovakia) and/or the High Balkan (Bulgaria). Quite recently mining areas and workshops 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).

In Bavaria local sources for the appropriate rocks have been demonstrated, such as river deposits (Endlicher 1995). Altogether the amphibolite adzes originate from outside the Lower Rhine Area, with at the moment a most likely source in the Carpathians.

The other raw materials mentioned will have been quarried in or close to the region itself. The basalt adzes were made of rock from the Siebengebirge and/or Eifel. Quite a number of adzes, particularly from the later LBK stage, are made of phtanite and lydite, both black silicious quartzites. The phtanite comes from Horion-Hozémont, to the southwest of Liege, the lydite from Céroux-Mousty, south of Brussels (Caspar 1984; Bakels 1987, 68). Blanks for adzes and production debris of Céroux-Mousty lydite in the LBK settlement of Wange prove their production close to the source (Lodewijckx 1984). These adzes found their way to the east as well, as to the settlement of Darion in Hesbaye, to the South Limburg Graetheide cluster and are rare on the Aldenhovener Platte.

The contribution of non-amphibolites as raw material increases in the later stage of the LBK, especially at sites in the periphery of the LBK distribution (Bakels 1987, 63; Ramminger 2009, fig. 8).

To the north, where adzes are rare, none of the raw materials mentioned above, like actinolite-hornblende schist and lydite, are found (Beuker et al. 1992).


Being an essential implement in the male domain and being made of selected and exotic stone, adzes will have been highly prized artefacts, the possession of which added prestige to their owners. So they are not only found as fragments in settlements, in the final stage of their ‘biography’, but in larger numbers as grave gift and in hoards.

Burial gifts in south German and Slovakian cemeteries, in which skeletal remains had been preserved, demonstrate that adzes in general were associated with men (Kahlke 1954; Müller et al. 1996; Richter 1968-69; Pavúk 1972; Reinecke 1978). But skeletal remains have decomposed in the Lower Rhine Basin and so analysis has to be based solely on the gift associations. Dohrn-Ihmig (1983) came, however, to the same conclusion in her analysis of the Niedermerz cemetery. Van de Velde (1979) assumed, in contrast, that high adzes in the Elsloo cemetery are male grave gifts indeed, and an indicator for prestige and status, while women received adzes as well, but especially flat ones.