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

Use and secondary working

Adzes have been used, worn and repaired like many other prehistoric artefacts. There are, however, not many traces of secondary working, except for sharpening of the edge by grinding and polishing. This usually resulted in a shorter length and different lengthwise section, while the cross-section presumably remained unchanged (cf. Bakels 1987, 70).

Some quite rare broken specimens from settlement contexts show, apart from traces of rehafting, the scars of working in a flaking technique in an attempt to obtain a functional edge again. To that purpose the fragment was treated like flint. Judging from the unfinished pieces this flaking was not always successful (fig. 2).


Figure 2 LBK adzes with traces of of secondary working and repair. Scale 1:1 (after Bakels 1987 , Figure 21, 22, photo Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden). left) rehafted broken adze, Elsoo. right) two broken adzes with traces of flaking, Rosmeer.


Figure 3 The distribution of adzes in the Lower Rhine Basin outside the loess and LBK settlement zone. German data after Brandt 1967 ; Belgian data after Jadin & Hauzeur 2003 , with additions. Legend: Yellow: loess; red: LBK settlement areas; blue dots: adzes; dotted lines: distance to LBK settlement zone.

2.2 Adzes outside the LBK culture area

Typical LBK adzes occur as stray finds all over the sandy plain to the north of the LBK settlement clusters of the loess belt (Brandt 1967, Karte 1, 3, 4). In the Netherlands 40 and Belgium 77 adzes are found outside the loess belt (fig. 3). Two zones can be made out in the distribution of these adzes and other typical LBK artefacts: a narrow c. 25 km wide inner zone, adjacent to the northern loess border, and a wide outer zone beyond up to 100 km (Van der Graaf 1987; De Grooth & Van der Velde 2005, fig. 11.3; Louwe Kooijmans 1993b; Verhart 2000, fig. 1.15). This bipartition is most obvious in the west.

Inner zone

The adzes from this zone are exclusively surface finds, without any archaeological context, but they have been found in the vicinity of mixed flint scatters from various periods at some locations in the inner zone.

The Middle Limburg Roer micro region stands out in the inner zone thanks to intensive surveys by an active amateur group. So far 13 adzes have been collected there, some have been found at sites where Late Mesolithic flint has been collected, be it always together with artefacts from other periods (Verhart in prep.) There are also surface associations of LBK and Limburg pottery sherds and characteristic LBK flint artefacts in different combinations documented in this region as well. Montfort I and II, well-known alleged key sites in this region, with a complete LBK flint inventory, pottery sherds and several small adzes must however be considered as unreliable (Newell 1970, figs 14, 15).[6]

One of the most informative sites, be it not associated with adze finds, is Echt-Annendaal, overviewing a wide brook valley and partly excavated in 1984 (Brounen 1985). No recognisable soil traces have been preserved due to soil processes, but the documented small-scale find scatters have been interpreted as resulting from a sequence of various short-term activities during the LBK and Rössen stages.

Outer zone

In the Netherlands adzes have been found all along the river Meuse as far north as Nijmegen (Bakels 1987, 78). The northernmost are two (not fully reliable) adzes from the Veluwe district, c. 150 km from the loess (Schut 1991, 59). No LBK adzes are known from the well-documented province of Drenthe farther north (Beuker et al. 1992).[7] In Belgium only a single specimen has been reported at a comparable distance (75 km), found in the 19th century during construction work at Antwerp-Fort St. Marie (Jadin & Hauzeur 2003, 88-89, locus 6).

One adze provides a little more information. A sand dredging location near the village of Gassel yielded a flat adze and some Early Neolithic sherds (so-called Begleitkeramik) among tens of thousands of pieces of flint, ranging in age from Early Mesolithic through to Late Neolithic (Brounen & De Jong 1988; Verhart 2000, 33). Artefacts considered characteristic for LBK are, however, completely absent and it must be questioned whether adze and sherds relate to a single activity, as is suggested.

The only other LBK artefacts in this outer zone are some 30 flint arrow-heads, all isolated surface finds, in distribution overlapping with the adzes (De Graaf 1987; Louwe Kooijmans 1993b, fig. 11). An exceptional find is a typical LBK arrow-head of Rijckholt type flint excavated from the oldest level of Hardinxveld-Giessendam Polderweg, dated to 5500-5300 cal. BC. The contact must have occurred at an extremely early moment in time, since this arrow-head found its way to the west almost immediately after LBK colonists had settled in South-Limburg in 5300 cal. BC.

Outside the study area

A small number of adzes has been found in northern Germany, but it is hard to ascertain whether all these adzes are actually of LBK origin (Klassen 2004; Terberger et al. 2009). They date probably from the late LBK period, but some adzes may be dated to the Rössen period (Klassen 2004, 56).

It is however obvious that there have been contacts between the western part of the Baltic and the LBK, judging from the pottery. In the LBK period this concerns some small sherds that might originate from the more southerly LBK settlement centres, such as the upper reaches of the Elbe in the Altmark, at a distance of c. 150 km (Klassen 2004).[8] There may also have been contacts over a similar distance with the LBK in the Uckermark region in the Oder estuary, also at a distance of c. 150 km (Klassen 2004, 72). These relations become stronger in the Rössen period, as can be deduced from the larger number of sites with imported pottery (Klassen 2004, 75-83).

The finds of Bandkeramik material in the western Baltic span a slightly larger distance to the LBK settlement areas than in the Lower Rhine Basin. Pottery and adzes are distributed almost equally in the western Baltic, whereas adzes are found over larger distances than pottery in the Lower Rhine Basin.


Several options have been considered as an explanation for the finds in both these zones: exchange with or theft by Mesolithic groups, expeditions or wanderings of LBK people to the north (for hunting, prospecting, cattle herding) or even an extension of formal LBK settlement area (Amkreutz 2010; Louwe Kooijmans 1993b, 125; Verhart 2000, 37). A more precise attribution of these options to sites and artefacts is not possible. The wider zone reflects at any rate a more extensive relation to the LBK settlements.

The sites and their find composition in the inner zone seem to be explained best as the reflection of small-scale camps of the people from the Bandkeramik settlements themselves in combination of course with exchange, theft and scavenging of left camping areas. For the first interpretation a study of the settlement pattern and land use in the LBK settlement cluster of the Graetheide plateau has made it likely that there was a shortage of pasture in the LBK habitation area on the loess (Bakels 1978, 1982), especially in the later stages when population had grown. A solution may have been the exploitation of the adjacent sand region in a form of transhumant cattle herding. Especially the site Echt-Annendaal, mentioned above, would fit this model, but not in connection with the Graetheide LBK cluster. The pattern and composition in the Roer region continue into the Rössen stage, while there is no succession of occupation at the Graetheide plateau (Zimmermann 2009). Some rough-outs of lydite adzes found in the Roer area and in the vicinity of Neer, northwest of Roermond, support this option of small-scale camps of the LBK people (Brounen & Peeters 2009).