This nephrite stone adze was made in the relatively recent past by a Maori stoneworker in New Zealand. Maori people refer to nephrite as pounamu, and the stone plays an important role in Maori culture. This adze is made from a variety of nephrite known as kawakawa pounamu.
Nephrite is exceptionally hard and resists both percussion flaking and pecking. Traditional Maori techniques of jade-working involved sawing slabs off of boulders using sandstone saws, and then shaping those pieces by sawing and grinding. One a slab was detached, it would be sawed from opposite sides with flat pieces of sandstone until the cuts nearly met, and then the unwanted piece was snapped off. In the recent past, lengths of wire, or circular saw blades with the teeth removed, were used with abrasive to create the cuts. Attributes of the saw-and-snap process can be seen on one lateral margin of the adze in this model, and an incipient cut is visible on one face. This is a Type 3 adze in the classification scheme published by the ethnologist Harry Skinner in 1943. The steep bevel and shape is characteristic of adzes from North Auckland.
See the annotations for technological details about this stone tool.
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 (jadeite and nephrite) 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 nephrite 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 nephrite 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 nephrite examples were used exclusively for ceremony. Maori also made narrow gouges with round cross sections.