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.

Suggested Reading:

https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/citd/holtorf/

http://eap.ee/public/va-arh/arch-2006-2-1.pdf

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