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

4 Spitzhauen

4.1 Introduction

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In the Lower Rhine Basin artefacts have been found, which show some resemblance in outline with the Breitkeile, the so-called Spitzhauen (Brandt 1976; Hulst & Verlinde 1979). Their distribution is in the Lower Rhine Basin restricted to the northern regions, where as now 32 specimens are known. They do not occur in the south (fig. 12). It is a typical North European implement, found all over the North German plain and southern Scandinavia, the Dutch examples representing the westernmost extension. The northwestern group of Spitzhauen represents a less slender group of artefacts. The slender type with a widening of the width at the location of the shaft hole is nearly absent in this region (Brandt 1976, Abb. 1, Form B.)

Detailed studies of Dutch Spitzhauen have been presented by Hulst & Verlinde (1979) and by Drenth & Niekus (2008; 2010).[21]


Figure 12 Distribution of Spitzhauen in the Lower Rhine Basin. German data (blue) after Brandt 1976 ; Dutch data (red) after Hulst & Verlinde 1979 , with additions.

4.2 Description

A Spitzhaue is an axe-like artefact with a stocky oval shape, an hourglass-shaped shaft hole, located towards the butt, and a blunt pointed tip. (fig. 13).[22] They are made of natural pebbles that have been pecked into the right shape, particularly at the edge. Many specimens still display (parts of) the original pebble surface. In some instances traces of grinding have been found as well. The characteristic double-conical shaft hole has also been made by pecking, in the same technique as the identical perforations of the so-called Geröllkeulen. Rock types selected are predominantly quarzite and (quartzitic) sandstone, with a significant shift towards the softer sandstones in comparison to the raw material of Geröllkeulen (Hulst & Verlinde 1979, 200). In the province of Drenthe five out of eight specimens had been made of quartzitic sandstone (Beuker et al., 1992).[23] These stone types were commonly available in pebble deposits.


Figure 13 Two examples of Dutch Spitzhauen. Left: Deldenerbroek, Ambt Delden; right: Boekelo, Enschede. Scale 1: 2 (after Hulst & Verlinde 1979 , Abb. 5, 6).

The 16 Dutch Spitzhauen listed by Hulst & Verlinde (1979) range in length from 100 to 202 mm. The majority however have a length around 130-140 mm. The width ranges from 50 to 92 mm; the thickness from 30 to 55 mm (fig. 14-15).


Figure 14 Length of Spitzhauen in the Lower Rhine Basin.


Figure 15 Length/width ratio (above) and width/height ratio (below) of Spitzhauen in the Lower Rhine Basin.

4.3 Dating

There is no reliable dating evidence for the Spitzhauen in the Lower Rhine Basin. Most artefacts are isolated finds without any context (Hulst & Verlinde 1979). The few alleged associations are unreliable. There is for instance a specimen from Deldenerbroek, reported to have been found with an unspecified axe, but unfortunately the axe has been lost. Two specimens, supposed to have been found beneath a thick layer of peat, lack exact find locations.

Half a Spitzhaue from Den Ham (Hulst & Verlinde 1979, O1), with an exceptional broadening at the shaft hole, is a type known from Sweden and Germany and is supposed to have been used there from the Early Mesolithic onward (Degn Johansson 2000; Gramsch 1973). The date is based on a find in Sandarna, which however appears not to originate from the Early Mesolithic level, but from a younger, Late Mesolithic layer containing Neolithic admixture as well (Alin & Niklassson 1934; Nordqvist 2000). Some German specimens too appear to have a younger (Late Mesolithic) date (Gramsch 1973, 28). The number of finds in Denmark is restricted.[24]

Special attention has to be given to the alleged Spitzhauen from Hohe Viecheln, Germany (Schuldt 1961, 103, Taf. 39, 40a, 99b-c). These implements have been found in a peat layer dated to the Late Boreal (c. 7200 cal BC), which mean that they would be the oldest known. It concerns however merely two natural pieces of rock, showing unfinished hourglass-shaped perforations, and both lacking traces of pecking. The third fragment shows a complete hourglass-shaped perforation, but has an irregular pointed outline without traces of pecking. These fragments are regarded as rough outs, broken during production. It is however questionable whether these fragment are rough outs.[25] Any fragments of Spitzhauen with pecking traces are lacking at other Boreal sites. The occurrence of stones with an irregular outline and hourglass-shaped perforation at other Mesolithic sites, like St. Oedenrode (Heesters 1971), are in favour to classify the Hohen Viecheln finds into this category.

The technique of making an hourglass-shaped hole in a natural pebble by means of pecking has been developed in early stage of the Mesolithic. Early, well-dated examples are three fragments of Geröllkeule (‘mace heads’) from Friesack, one of a finished and two of unfinished specimens, from early Boreal layers, c. 8000 cal BC. From a younger layer, dating from the Early Atlantic, c. 7000 cal BC, comes a complete one with preserved wooden haft (Gramsch 1987, 85; 2000). The lower limit for this technique seems therefore to be near this time. There are some open Mesolithic associations in the Netherlands, and recently a specimen has been found in a pit with human cremation remains on the submerged dune of Beverwaard-Tramremise near Rotterdam, well dated to c. 7100 cal BC (Zijl et al. 2010, 24, 32). An upper limit is given by several fragments from Swifterbant site S3 (c. 4000 cal BC).[26]

The south-eastern part of the province of Groningen consists of large scale peat bog reclamation. The area had been covered with peat from the Middle Atlantic onward. On the now recovered old coversand surface a large number of Early and Middle Mesolithic sites have been traced and excavated. The period of human activity has reliably been dated to the period 7500-6300 cal BC on the basis of 34 14C dates. Four Geröllkeulen have been found in this district, but no Spitzhauen at all (Groenendijk 1993, 47). Their absence may be viewed as significant in spite of the low numbers and to imply an origin of the specific artefact type after 6300 cal BC.[27]

The development of the Spitzhaue seems altogether to be rather late in the development of stone artefacts with hourglass-shaped shaft holes, probably to be dated after the Middle Atlantic, i.e. after c. 6000 cal BC.

4.4 Function

The question concerning the function of Spitzhauen is equally hard to answer. The tip is so blunt as to preclude the use as a working wood implement. The double-conical shaft hole, which hardly allows a firm fixation of a handle, contradicts a function as an axe. The choice of raw material is an argument against the use on hard material. There are however macroscopic traces of wear in some shaft holes, showing that they have been hafted. Many of the Spitzhauen display traces of use, in the form of battered parts of the surface. These occur in particular at the butt and, to a lesser extent, at the tip. Only three specimens show use damage at both ends. They are, however, absent at almost half of all artefacts (Hulst & Verlinde 1979, 195). Microscopic use wear study has not been performed on either Spitzhauen or Geröllkeulen up till now.[28]

It is, however, beyond discussion that the Spitzhaue was an implement used on a relatively soft material, modestly damaged and worn, and occasionally broken (see also Drenth & Niekus 2010). It was left or deposited in the field, rarely at a settlement site. It could even have been used as weapon. So a functional interpretation is difficult, due to lacking evidence in relation to find circumstances and absence of wear studies.

4.5 An alternative perspective

Based on the available data, especially the scarce dating evidence, the introduction of Spitzhauen has to be regarded as an indigenous development in Late Mesolithic society. The distribution of these rather rare implements covers the northern part of the northwest European plain and southern Scandinavia, with the exclusion of Denmark.

I would like to give some arguments in favour of the development of Spitzhauen as possible imitations of Rössener Keile in Mesolithic territory, especially in the northern part of the Lower Rhine Basin. These are the morphological similarity to Rössener Keile, the restricted distribution in the northern part of the Lower Rhine Basin and the similarities in the execution of the shaft holes of the Spitzhauen itself and the locally, in Mesolithic territory, repaired broken Keile. The occurrence of Spitzhauen particularly in the northern part of the Lower Rhine Basin, their form and dimensions opens the possibility that Keile in circulation there may have been the source of inspiration. A drawback for this option is of course the impossibility to secure their introduction after c. 5000 cal BC, the supposed start of the arrival of Keile in Mesolithic territory.