Battle Axes and the Corded Ware-culture


This is a rther amall, 12 cm long,  faceted battle-axe from S-Germany coming from a 19th century collection.  Since the early Neolithic period when stone axes were first introduced, they were used as tools or weapons. However, subsequently they were also used as important valuables maintaining trade as well as social communication between individuals, communities and regions. In the period of Corded Ware Cultures, stone axes mediated a symbolic relationship between the body of the buried individual and the respective society. Stone axes served as an important part of the burial assemblage and attributes of particular social categories, indicators of wealth and social status of an individual.

The archaeological phenomenon referred to as the Corded Ware (CW) culture is one of the more enigmatic, as well as widely discussed, in European prehistory. Archaeologically it has been defined by a set of material traits, such as cord-ornamented beakers and amphorae, shaft-hole battle axes, and standardized burial practices involving single, sex-differentiated inhumations under barrows, oriented east-west, in contracted (hocker) positions. These burials generally date between ca. 2800–2200 BC and are found over a very large area in central, northern, and Eastern Europe.

battleaxe1Under the general CW rubric, a number of regionally-defined cultures have been subsumed, such as the Single Grave Culture in Denmark, Holland and N. Germany, the Battle Axe Culture of Sweden, Norway and Finland, and the Fatjanovo Culture in Russia. The wide geographic distribution and the perceived homogeneity of the culture, coupled with the lack of identified settlements, have given risen to debates regarding the interpretation of this phenomenon.

The discussions have concerned among other things the origin of the culture, the mechanism behind its introduction, the identification of a network instead of a mono- or polythetic “culture”, the identification of marriage practices, the spread of a common ideology, whether its carriers were also Indo-European speakers, and the nature of settlement and economy.

Regarding the formation of the CW, some archaeologists point out the contribution of different regions to the material set of the “CW-network”, while others note similarities with the steppe, in particular with the Yamnaya culture, as a possible area of origin. This is based on similarities in burial rituals. Some authors have suggested that this culture practiced a form of mobile pastoralism, which spread towards the west through migration and/or cultural influence, and gave rise to the CW.

In the process, Indo-European language would also have spread over Europe, but I still have some reservations of linking a linguistic theoreticalconstruct with archaeological and genetic data. Recently, these hypotheses have gained support from aDNA studies of Yamnaya and CW burials. It was shown that a genetic transformation took place in areas where previous Neolithic DNA was heavily reduced and complemented by Yamnaya DNA. This new genetic presence was lasting and provided much of the genetic material for contemporary European populations.

There is increasing evidence for some kind of population reduction or crisis toward the end of the middle Neolithic facilitating this introduction of new genes and recent research has documented the presence of plague among Yamnaya and Corded Ware individuals, which may have spread among Neolithic populations prior to the migrations. This needs to be explored in future research. At the macro-historical level, the old debate over migration versus local adaptation thus seems to be solved. However, we still do not know how migration and other formation processes unfolded in the various regions, and regional variability is evident.

Isotope Studies from South Germany  suggest that Corded Ware groups in this region were subsisting on a mix of plant and animal foods and were highly mobile, especially the women.This may be interpreted as a pattern of female exogamy, involving different groups with differing economic strategies.

The Boat Axe Culture

Corded Ware Axe from S-Germany

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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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One Response to Battle Axes and the Corded Ware-culture

  1. There’s an old saying that the best symbol for a sharp knife is a -sharp- knife.

    That axe is a tomahawk; it’s a weapon, designed to crack bone and obviously of little utility for anything else.

    That it becomes the predominant male grave-good is itself a strong indication of what the culture was like.

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