Neolithic Axe sleve from the Palafittes of Lake Neuchatel

axe aggsbachaxe1 aggsbachkleinIn Switzerland, many village sites from the Neolithic and, to a lesser extent, the Bronze Age became known around larger lakes such as Bienne, Constance, Neuchâtel, Zug and Zürich. There were also lake dwellings built around smaller lakes and in or near peat bogs . Many of the lacustrian sites were excavated in conjunction with various building and highway projects around the country beginning in the 1980s.

Lakeshore settlements are less common around the lake of Geneva. The reasons are not understood but differences in topography, preservation, and environment as well as less survey work may be possible explanations.

The houses of lake dwellings found today in Africa and elsewhere around the world are mostly constructed on high wooden posts because of seasonal variations in river levels. This might also be why prehistoric lake dwellings were sometimes built above the ground, although ground level houses also existed. However, each site is different and unstable ground may explain the use of these long posts sunk deeply into the earth.

Villages of various sizes, ranging in size between 500 and 10,000 m2, are characteristic of the 3rd, 4th and the second half of the 5th millennium BC in this region. This means there could be hamlets with only 6 to 10 houses but also villages with as many as 100 houses.

Because most lake dwelling layers lie below the water table, aerobic bacteria, which are responsible for decay, cannot damage organic materials. Therefore, fruits, seeds, leaves and wood or even fragments of textiles are frequently preserved. As at sites buried in dry sediment, animal bones, flint or stone tools, and ceramics are also present but are in much better condition. Tools made from animal bones or from red deer antler, for example, are preserved with both their manufacture and use wears clearly visible.

palafitteDeer antler sleeves  are pieces of deer antler which fit over a stone axe to form a sleeve between the axehead and the wooden haft into which the combined axe and sleeve is fitted. Antler sleeves represent a technological innovation designed to protect the valuable axe or adze ash wood shafts and handles from breaking by absorbing the force of blows, because antler is more resilient to shock than wood.

In Europe, antler sleeves and mounts for hafting different stone tools are known since the Praeboreal (early Mesolithic) from Poland, N-Germany, Scandinavia and the UK.  Since the 4th millennium BC, antler sleeves became tools of fundamental importance throughout the Neolithic of the Alpine Foreland and remained in use  until the Corded Ware period at 2800 BC. Anyhow there may certainly some bias in the old collections of Palafitte remains explicable by the long history and intensity of research in Switzerland and by the favorable preservation conditions at the Swiss lake sites.

Suggested Reading:

http://www.aggsbach.de/2012/09/grand-pressigny-dagger-from-the-lac-de-neuchatel/

Alice M. Choyke and Jörg Schibler : Prehistoric Bone Tools and the Archaeozoological Perspective: Research in Central Europe

http://www.palafittes.org/en/index.html

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