Brittany has a high density of megalithic sites and is renowned for its standing stones which mostly date to the Neolithic period. This Jadeite Axe, dated to about 4000 BC was found at Trébeurden, famous for its megalithic monuments.
Jadeite was once exploited from primary and secondary occurrences in Piedmont and Liguria beginning with the 6th millennium BC. Two groups of quarries (Mont Viso and Mont Beigua, Italy) were the source of the Alpine axeheads that circulated throughout Western Europe during the Neolithic. The quarries on Mont Viso (Oncino: Porco, Bulè and Milanese) have been radiocarbon-dated, and this has revealed that the exploitation of jadeites, omphacitites and eclogites at high altitude (2000-2400 m above sea level) seems to have reached its apogee in the centuries around 5000 BC. The products, in the form of small axe- and adze-heads, were distributed beyond the Alps from the beginning of the fifth millennium, a few being found as far away as the Paris Basin, 550 km from their source as the crow flies.
In North Italy and South-East French such axes were mainly used as functional tools (for example for deforestation and woodworking) and much less for ritual or prestige purposes. In Central / West Europe the same lithologies are found less frequently. However, it was not until the mid-fifth millennium BC that long axeheads from Mont Viso appeared in the hoards and monumental tombs of the Morbihan, 800 km from the quarries. These oversized ceremonial axes have shapes that are not present in the Italian Neolithic tradition. These items must have reflected a highly prestigious character.
Production continued until the beginning of the third millennium BC, but at this time the distribution of the products was less extensive, and the process of distribution operated in a different way: tools made from jadeite and eclogite are still found in the French Jura, but the extraction sites at the south-east foot of Mont Viso no longer seem to have been used. The variability in the geographical extent of the distribution at different times seems to be related to the social context of exploitation of the high-altitude quarries, which were only ever accessible for a few months each year.
P. Pétrequin, A. M. Pétrequin, M. Errera, S. Cassen, C. Croutsch, L. Klassen, M. Rossy, P. Garibaldi, E. Isetti, G. Rossi und D. Delcaro, Beigua, Monviso e Valais. All’origine delle grandi asce levigate di origine alpina in Europa occidentale durante il V millenio. Rivista di Scienze Preistoriche LV, 2005, 265-322.
A.-M. Pétrequin, P. Pétrequin, Objets de pouvoir en Nouvelle-Guinée. Approche ethnoarchéologique d`un système de signes sociaux. Réunion des Musées Nationaux (ed.), Paris 2006.