Neolithic Sickles from the Mortillet Collection

These are two broken sickles from the Scandinavian Neolithic / early Bronze Age from the collection of Adrien de Mortillet.

Adrien de Mortillet was born 1853 in Geneva, during the political exile of his better known father, Gabriel de Mortillet (1821-1898). In 1863 the Family de Mortillet returned to France. Gabriel de Mortillet joined the staff of the Museum of National Antiquities, Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1868) and was assistant curator of this institution for 17 years. Adrian also took interest in prehistory and made several missions in France, Europe and overseas. He participated in several journals of prehistory and the journal of the School of Anthropology and Prehistoric Man. From 1889 he taught at the School of Anthropology of Paris. He was first junior lecturer in comparative ethnology, a position created for him in 1898 and transformed in October 1929 into the Chair of Prehistoric Anthropology.

Father and son were exponents of an epistemology, known as “matérialisme scientifique”. This approach was positivistic, resolutely materialist and anti-clerical. Gabriel de Mortillet wrote several influential political and ideological books about prehistory and about the French national identity. His roots in internationalism and socialist positions saved him to become chauvinistic in his attitude, even after the Prussian-French war in 1870. For Gabriel de Mortillet, the nation was exclusively a geopolitical entity. “Nationality is a political union voluntarily and knowingly accepted, based on common sentiments and interests” (de Mortillet 1897). Adrian de Mortillet on the other hand seemed to be more chauvinistic in his approach, which became apparent during the “Hauser Affair” in the years before 1914 (White 2007).

Both, father and son were compassionate collectors of prehistoric tools. A large part of Gabriel de Mortillet’s collection of prehistoric European artifacts was saled in 1868 to the newly formed Harvard Peabody Museum. The availability of this collection was due to the policy of the French state, which regarded ownership of archaeological collections as incompatible with employment in the National Museum (Chazan 2009). After his death in 1931, Adrien de Mortillet’s collection was dispersed over many institutions and individual collectors.

Ironically, the collection of Gabriel de Mortillet, which was the fundament for his scientific system and the book “Musée préhistorique” ( was never exhibited in the public after acquired by the Peabody Museum. It remained a “dead collection”, which did not play any role in the American discussion about the Paleolithic of this continent.

Suggested Reading:

Michael Chazan.  Consequently That Now in Our Possession Was Sold: The Sale of the de Mortillet Collection. Histories of Anthropology Annual, Volume 5, 2009, pp. 73-89

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome!

About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University.

Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.

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One Response to Neolithic Sickles from the Mortillet Collection

  1. Some truly wonderful info , Gladiolus I noticed this. “The language of friendship is not words but meanings.” by Henry David Thoreau.

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