Early Bronze Age decorated Flat Axe: An artifact of Prestige and Power?


This is an early flat decorated  and slightly flanged Bronze axe from S-Germany (19 x 3 x 6 x 0,7 cm). Such artifacts are rare in central Europe but more common In W-Europe, especially in the UK. They have forerunners during  the Chalcolithic period in the Near East and Europe. It remains unclear if these early copper flanged axes or the know -how of their production came from the Levant or were invented several times at different places.

Bronze Age metal tools were formed using moulds to shape the molten metal into the desired form. The technology for moulding bronze improved through the Bronze Age. Initially, items were cast by pouring the bronze into hollowed out stone moulds. By the Middle Bronze Age, people had invented two part moulds, where two hollowed stones were put together and metal poured into a gap at the top. This allowed for sophisticated objects like axes and spearheads to be produced. By the end of the Bronze Age, metal smiths were making wax or fat models of what they wanted to cast, putting clay around them and then heating the clay to melt the wax. The melted metal was then poured in and once set, the clay was chipped away.

The social stratification during the Early Stone age has been taken for granted since the beginning of research into their material remains since 150 years ago. The burials which make up the bulk of the evidence seem to leave no doubt that marked social inequalities emerged during these times. According this view, the development of metallurgy, a specialized technology mainly for the manufacture of display items, involves an elaborate system of production and exchange and thereby suggests the existence of a permanent elite to consume the goods so arduously brought into being. The broad geographic distribution of “elite” artifacts helped the upper  classes to establish a web of widespread, mutually supportive partnerships. Indeed, the very passage from collective to “individualizing” burial rituals, a change occurring at the start of the Bronze Age over much of Europe, suggests the development of social stratification (Renfrew 1976).


According the general opinion, decorated bronze axeheads, as the one shown here, would have been an object of great wealth and a symbol of power to its owner. If made from raw materials – copper and tin – the tin would have had to be imported. Only the very wealthy in society would have access to such Materials-anyhow other explanations should also be considered.

Let’s think different and forget, at least for a while, hierarchies, “the big man theories” , assumptions about Prestige goods and other elements of the current paradigm.  We need new testable hypotheses about an alternative social organization as the basis for the European early Bronze age. No genuine attempt has been made to think about and model Bronze Age societies other than as hierarchical systems. We need to take into consideration other aspects of ancient reality than just executive power and institutionalized ranking. The arguable parallel between social complexity and socio-political hierarchical organization has certainly to be reconsidered.




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