Metavolcanic stone adze from West Java, Indonesia. This adze is classified as Type 2A in the adze typology used by archaeologists working in the region. This is the most widespread adze form in Southeast Asia and Oceania. It likely dates to the Neolithic period in Indonesia, ca. 1000-4000 BP.
This Type 2A large adze has a rectangular cross section, with straight sides. The faces are completely ground, obscuring the stoneworking techniques used to manufacture the blank. The adze is short relative to its width and the cutting edge may have been resharpened many times. The stone is heavily patinated. Deep scars are present on the butt and one side of the adze which remove the patinated surface, and must have occurred much later after the adze was found and reused. The butt of the recycled adze was used as a hammer, and heavy blows initiated relatively large flake scars onto both faces and down one edge, and created a battered surface.
Edge-ground stone axes and adzes were made by ca. 32,000-38,000 BP in the Japanese archipelago, and 19,000-21,000 BP in southern China. These are the oldest in the world outside Australia, where they date to over 40,000 years old. The earliest axes were flaked to shape with a bifacially ground edge on one end.
Flaked and pecked axes with rounded or lenticular cross-sections were made across Asia and the pacific throughout prehistory, but axes with rectangular cross-sections were especially popular in some regions. The squared edges on axes and adzes made from igneous or volcanic stones were often made entirely by grinding, but in some regions the edges were squared-off by flaking, probably using an indirect percussion technique and a bone, antler, or stone punch. This indirect percussion-flaking technique was used in East Java and Flores, Indonesia, by 2600 BP, and was also used in New Zealand and perhaps northeastern India. The technique and manufacturing stages are strikingly similar to indirect percussion axe-making at about the same time in Northern Europe, and the technique was almost certainly developed in these areas independently as a stone working ‘good trick’.
Axes and adzes in Asia proliferated in late prehistory into a bewildering array of sizes and shapes that reflect regional trends. In Northeast Thailand, adzes were made with tangs at the proximal end, called ‘shouldered adzes’ by archaeologists. In parts of Indonesia, axe- and adze-makers began grinding the top surface into two facets with a ridge down the centre. Ceremonial gouges were made on Java with a central ridge first made by indirect percussion ‘stitching’ similar to that seen on stone dagger handles made in Denmark. A gouge is similar to an adze, but with a U-shaped working edge rather than a straight one. These Javanese gouges were made from spectacular stones, such as chalcedony and agate, and the flake scars from manufacture were completely removed by grinding.
Jade axes were made in China from about 7000 years ago, along with elaborately carved jade ‘dagger-axes’. Jade axes were perforated near the middle or proximal end as an aid in hafting. Axes with preserved handles have been discovered, showing that they were inserted into a hole in the wood handle and were wedged tight through use. An image engraved onto a Liangzhu Culture pot (ca. 4300-5300 BP), which portrays a perforated axe, shows that the hole was used for a string binding.
Elaborate jade and basalt adzes were also made in late prehistory and into the recent past by Maori people in New Zealand. Some were made with elaborately-shaped proximal ends for hafting, with extremely fine, sharp cutting edges. Similar examples were made in Hawaii. The basalt examples were made by a combination of flaking, pecking, and grinding, while the jade adzes were made mostly by sawing and grinding augmented in the haft area by pecking. These tools were essential for making the elaborate wood carvings on ceremonial houses and canoes, and certain jade examples were used exclusively for ceremony. Maori also made narrow gouges with round cross sections.