This metavolcanic axe is set into an antler sleeve and dates to ca. 4300-6500 BP. The provenance of the artefact is not known, but it was probably recovered from a Neolithic stilt-house in the Alps.
The axe in this model illustrates a common method for hafting small axes during the Neolithic period in Switzerland. The stone was set into a slot in the end of a carved antler sleeve and the antler sleeve was perforated to receive a relatively thin wood handle. Some researchers have proposed that the flexible nature of the antler sleeve served as a ’shock absorber’ that cushioned the stone axe during wood chopping, and increased the life of the haft (especially the wood handle). The sleeve in this model has a slot for a second axe in the opposite end, and the relatively long sleeve is similar to examples referred to as doppelfassung axes. In another variant of antler sleeve hafting, the sleeve was shorter and not perforated; it was designed to be wedged into a hole in a thick wood handle.
The artefact is in a private European collection.
See the annotations for technological details about this stone tool.
Small stone axes preserved in antler sleeves are frequently found in submerged Neolithic ‘Lake Dweller’ villages, where organic tools and parts of tools are preserved in anaerobic environments. The use of antler at these sites fluctuated with the availability of red deer, which tended to be over-hunted when food was scarce. About 50% of antler use was connected with the manufacture of sleeves for axes during the Horgen and Corded Ware periods.
‘Lake Dweller’ archaeology refers to submerged remains of stilt-houses and artefacts in the near-shore environments of high-altitude Alpine lakes in an arc from France to Slovenia, including Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Italy. The lakeside dwellings dated from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Early Iron Age, ca. 2800-6500 BP. These settlements were built on the marshy areas near the edges of the lakes, but contrary to previous thought, the structures were probably not built over the water. Extensive platforms of logs, piles, and rock were necessary to provide a stable surface for construction on the boggy ground. Many of the villages were surrounded by defensive palisades built of vertical posts. The inhabitants farmed the lakeshore environments and engaged in extensive hunting and gathering. The houses were rebuilt regularly as the foundations settled and water levels changed. Most of the sites are now completely submerged due to rising water levels, and the waterlogged environment has led to excellent organic artefact preservation. Artefacts recovered from these sites include large numbers of everyday tools and objects, yielding great insight into the life ways of the people living in Europe during this period. The lake dwellings were abandoned in northern areas during the Bell Beaker period and Early Bronze Age (ca. 4100-4500 BP) and again in the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2200-2500 BP). The abandonment was probably caused by rising lake levels flooding the productive agricultural strip along the lakeshores, and when water levels dropped again, the sites were reoccupied.
Local fishermen were familiar with the extensive remains of piles in the lakes from at least the 1820s. But in 1854 the low water level in Lake Zurich allowed the construction of a new harbour, and the digging exposed the archaeological remains associated with these piles. Similar discoveries were made on other lakes and this attracted public interest and antiquity dealers, and the artefacts were widely disseminated to collections and museums around the world. These 19th century discoveries had far-reaching social impacts in Switzerland, as the deep histories recorded in these sites forged a common cultural identity. In 2011, 111 pile dwelling sites across the Alpine region were placed under a single UNESCO World Heritage listing.