A Swedish Battle Axe

 

This is a typical Swedish battle axes of the Middle Neolithic B, also called boat axes because of their shape. The axe, shown here is a type B battle axe, an early  version of the type A Corded Ware battle Axe, only with shafthole socket and butt knob. It is especially common in Eastern Central Sweden.

At around 2800 BC, the Funnel Beaker culture mostly disappears from the archaeological record in Southern and Western Sweden and more or less novel types of artefacts appear. There are two alternative names for this new set of objects: Battle Axe culture or Boat Axe culture. The full name  is actually the ‘Swedish-Norwegian Battle Axe culture’, as the material culture found in southern Norway is very similar to the Swedish – initially at least.  The Battle Axe culture is a regional version of the Corded Ware culture complex.

In the third millennium BC a similar form of burial tradition and material culture appears in large areas of Northern and Eastern Europe.. The characteristic single graves contain crouched individuals seemingly buried according to a strict set of rules regarding orientation, position and gifts. There are new types of battle axes and new types of pottery – cord-decorated beakers.

Ever since this culture was publicised by Sophus Müller (1899), almost every aspect of it has been the subject of intense debate. Explanations have ranged from involving large-scale or small-scale migrations, or diffusion of ideas, ideologies and/or religion into the local population. Others have tried to find a middle road, explaining the change as resulting from a combination of both processes. A centre of origin for the Corded Ware culture, whether in terms of people or ideas, has been traced to Jutland, Germany and the steppes of Russia respectively. Recently genetic data point indeed to a migration process from the East.

As mentioned above, the Corded Ware culture was mainly known and defined through the burials, where individuals were placed in crouched positions. Orientation of the graves, as well as the position of the deceased and where he or she was facing, seem to have been strictly regulated and also dependent upon gender. The burial gifts are likewise very rigidly prescribed and placed in relation to the body. The groundstone battle axes are often seen as evidence for a patriarchal and individualistic social order, in contrast to the collective megalithic tombs of the preceding Funnel Beaker culture.

It should be noted, however, that the frequency of battle axes varies considerably across the Corded Ware region, being far more common in some parts of Germany and especially Scandinavia than in Poland, the Czech Republic or Switzerland. The common denominator, which has also given the name to the phenomenon, is the cord decorated beaker.The shape and to a lesser degree the decorative patterns on these beakers also vary, from slim, long-necked Protruding Foot beakers of Holland and parts of Germany to the far more globular, wide-mouthed beakers of Sweden and Finland.

Apart from the beakers and battle axes, the burials may include work axes of flint or groundstone, flint blade knives, bone awls, rings made from bone or amber, bone pins, tooth-shaped bone pendants and occasionally small copper ornaments. Less common, or more regionally specific, are hammer stones, arrowheads, wristguards, antler weapons, grindstones and quern stones. The typical grave is often described as being oriented east- west, with men placed on their right side and women on their left, both facing south. As with all such generalisations, there are plenty of exceptions. A problem is that bones are often not preserved enough for an osteological sex determination. In fact, often not enough remains of the body to even ascertain the position in which the dead was placed. Sex is therefore often determined solely based on the burial gifts, with the risk of a circular line of reasoning. The assumption that battle axes denote male burials seems to hold up on the occasions when actual skeletal remains are analysed, however, the other types of objects are generally not as easy to ascribe to only one gender. In fact, several of the other tools and artefacts seem to appear in both ‘male’ and ‘female’ burials, though possibly with different frequency or position. This is also something that is subject to regional as well as chronological variation.

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