Stridsøksekulturens flintøkser og -mejsler


  • Flemming Højlund


økse, mejsel


Axes and chisels of flint in the Battle-axe culture  

Axes and chisels of flint have played a prominent role in the discussion on the relationship between the Funnel Beaker culture and the Battle-axe culture. This article presents the results of an investigation of 143 flint axes and chisels from inhumation graves with battle-axes, pots or amber discs of the Battle-axe culture in Jutland and Schleswig-Holstein (fig. 2).

Type definitions. Axes have a minimum edge width of 2.9 cm.
Chisels have a maximum edge width of 2.8 cm (fig. 1 & 3).
Thick-bladed axes have a minimum thickness at the 1/3 cross-section of 2.5 cm.
Thin-bladed axes have a maximum thickness at the 1/3 cross-section of 2.4 cm (fig. 1 & 4).

Development in proportions and polishing. As P.V. Glob and K.W. Struve state, the axes are longest in the oldest finds. The thick-bladed axes have a median length of 16.5 cm in the Bottom Grave period and 14.6 cm in the Ground Grave period. The length varies in the Bottom Grave period from 11 to 24 cm, and in the Ground Grave period from 11 to 18 cm (fig. 5). Axes of 19 cm and above are thus not found in the Ground Grave period and are separated as a variant of the thick-bladed axes: Thick-bladed axes, variant I, have a minimum length of 19.0 cm (fig. 6). Thick-bladed axes, variant 2, have a maximum length of 18.9 cm (fig. 7). The chronological distribution of the two variants may be seen on page 183. A slight suggestion of a reduction in the length from the Bottom Grave to the Ground Grave period can be observed in the thin-bladed axes.

The median edge-width:length index in the thick-bladed axes increases from 0.32 in the older Bottom Grave period to 0.36 in the younger Bottom Grave period and 0.38 in the Ground Grave period. This is because the axes become shorter with time. As the edge width is approximately constant in the Bottom Grave and Ground Grave periods while the length decreases, the edge-width: length index must necessarily increase.

The median value of the thick-bladed axes' butt-thickness:butt-width index increases from 0.62 in the older Bottom Grave period to 0.64 in the younger Bottom Grave period and 0.72 in the Ground Grave period. An explanation of this phenomenon does not seem possible. A corresponding gradual development of the butt index has been suggested for the thick-bladed axes of the Middle Neolithic Funnel Beaker culture from Period III to V.

Registration of the broad-side polishing of the axes and chisels has been made separately within the three segments shown in fig. 1 - edge segment, body segment and butt segment. Two grades of polishing are recognized: completely polished and partially polished. A segment of an axe, for instance the body segment, is completely polished if it presents a continuous polished surface at least 5 mm wide connecting the butt segment with the edge segment. Partially polished segments comprise all polished segments in which polishing is not complete with the exception of those where prominent ridges have been ground off, which are reckoned unpolished. Completely polished, partially polished and unpolished are marked 1, 2 and 3 respectively in fig. 8. If an axe or chisel side has the polishing combination 1-2-3 it means that the edge segment is completely polished, the body segment partially polished and the butt segment unpolished. It is apparent from fig. 8 that the longest axes are more polished than the short ones, and that the older axes are more polished than the younger. A tendency in the same direction may be observed in the thin-bladed axes.

There seems to be a chronological element in the development of the chisel's narrow side (expressed in the butt-width:edge-width index, fig. 3) from chisels with parallel narrow-sides to chisels with narrow-sides diverging towards the butt. Chisels with parallel narrow-sides are generally more polished than chisels with diverging narrow-sides. On this basis chisels will be divided into two variants: chisels, variant 1, have a maximum butt-width:edge-width index of 1.10 (fig. 9), chisels, variant 2, have a minimum butt-width:edge-width index of 1.11 (fig. 10). The chronological distribution of the two chisel variants may be seen on p. 186.

The practical function of the axes. A small section of the complete axe material (15 pieces) showed a mean weight of 449 g for the thick-bladed and 119 g for the thin-bladed. This marked difference may no doubt be attributed to the thick­bladed axes being designed for hard work such as tree felling where the axe blade must necessarily have weight if it is to penetrate sufficiently into the wood. The thin-bladed axe, on the other band, must have served quite a different purpose, not requiring a corresponding weight in the blow.

Imitation of the Bundsø type? In 1954 C.J. Becker stated his belief that Funnel Beaker period III of the Middle Neolithic was coeval with the older Bottom Grave period of the Battle-axe culture. The study of Funnel Beaker culture thick­butted axes in 1957 apparently confirmed this, C.J. Becker seeing in the similarity between the Battle-axe culture's older flint axes and the Funnel Beaker culture's Bundsø type an imitation of the Bundsø type by the Battle-axe people after its immigration. It is, however, very difficult to evaluate the similarity between the Bundsø type and the older flint axes in the Battle-axe culture. For one thing, the Bundsø type is not exactly defined, and only a few specimens described in the literature were recovered from a sure Funnel Beaker context. Until further typological and chronological investigations have been carried out it is wiser to suspend judgement on any similarity between the Bundsø type and the older flint axes of the Battle-axe culture.

Flint technique of the Battle-axe culture. The so-called poor flint technique of the Battle-axe culture compared with that of the Funnel Beaker culture has been adduced as evidence that the Battle-axe people immigrated from an area where flint was a foreign material. The technique employed in fashioning battle-axes in greenstone - rough dressing, grinding and slight polishing - was transferred to the new material. This model seems immediately acceptable, but there are a number of circumstances which seem to contradict it. If this "poor" flint technique is due to unfamiliarity with the material, one would expect an improvement in technique with time, whereas it has been demonstrated that the oldest axes are the longest and most polished. An explanation for this has been sought in the (unsupported) hypothesis that a number of the oldest axes in Battle-axe graves were made by Funnel Beaker folk. It is also strange that it is in particular the thick-bladed axes which differ in the two cultures, whereas the thin-bladed axes cannot as a rule be separated.

A new model is offered here - that these differences in dressing and polishing are due not to different levels of skill but to differences in the time and care worth expending on a thick-bladed flint axe, depending on different functions in the two cultures. The care lavished on the thick-bladed axe in the Funnel Beaker culture and its prominent place in the stone packing graves is taken as a sign that this implement in addition to its practical function, served as a prestige symbol of religious or ideological nature, perhaps reserved for persons with a particular status in the community. A corresponding social function is likely for the battle­axe in the Battle-axe culture judging from its equally careful working, its probably poor efficacy as a weapon and its prominent position in the graves. This can be the reason for the lack of care spent on the thick-bladed flint axe in the Battle-axe culture as compared with the Funnel Beaker culture. The flint axe is in the Battle­axe culture primarily an implement with a practical function.   

Flemming Højlund





Højlund, F. (1973). Stridsøksekulturens flintøkser og -mejsler. Kuml, 23(23), 179–196. Hentet fra