Secondary Context

This is a boat shape axe (16 cm long) found in the stone wall of the old school at Tåsinge, DK, which was built in 1826. It is an axe in a secondary context and certainly was not sealed in the wall by chance.

Late- Neolithic shaft-hole axes are often found in a secondary context. Such a context has been calculated for 10-15% of all axes found in Northern Europe.

Findings in an early secondary context start from the Late Bronze Age. One example from a modern excavation comes from a late Iron Age stone grave in Finland, at Hämeenkyrö Mahnala Lehtiniemi. C. Holtorf recently documented findings of Neolithic stone axes and pottery from Iron Age fire-pits, as well as Bronze and Iron Age graves in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Northern Germany). All these customs seem to be a part of a tradition, where ancestors and genealogies were of high importance.

The later secondary context of the stone axes is connected with their medieval and modern use, namely, the recognizing of stone axes as thunderbolts/thunderstones. In Northern Europe the axes were kept on shelves, chests of drawers or in sacks, usually put away a somewhere special, e.g. bricked into the walls, placed under the sill or floor or attached into the ceiling above the bed.  At this time, numerous documents indicate that a strong magical function was ascribed to thunderbolts to make sure that lightning did not strike the houses or barns and kill people or animals.

The finding of an axe in the walls of an old school is ambiguous. The fact stands for two traditions: A tradition of magic thinking and the tradition of enlightenment that aimed to overcome such mentalities.

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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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