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An Ancient Axe to Grind

Often called a battle-axe, though not necessarily used in warfare, a Late Neolithic stone axe can be characterised by having a solid body, a centrally placed shaft hole for hafting, a slightly concave outline when viewed in profile, and an expanded blade and butt, sometimes having a blade at both ends.

The Neolithic period in prehistoric Greece occurred from approximately 6800 BCE to 3200 BCE, and is characterized by sedentary farming communities that practised an agro-pastoral economy (growing crops and raising livestock), demonstrated by archaeological evidence of domesticated seed crops and domesticated animals. During this period, the organisation of daily life was connected with the emergence of new technologies such as pottery, grinding stone tools and other food-processing technologies, and polished stone axes.

Similar to examples in Northern Europe, the Neolithic communities of the Aegean employed a wide variety of rock types to create their stone axes including rocks from all three geological categories - metamorphic, sedimentary and igneous. Rock was taken from primary sources such as quarries, as well as from secondary sources such as river and beach cobbles, and stone axes were produced using both percussive (pecking) and abrasive (sawing, grinding and polishing) techniques. Study of stone sources established that Northern European stone axes circulated over very long distances and therefore played an important role in the exchange systems of Neolithic communities. More recent studies on raw material sourcing in the Aegean indicate a diverse rock selection from local and non-local sources, signifying both direct procurement and some form of exchange system with other communities.

When interpreting the functions and roles of axe-heads we can draw on the contexts in which they are found (such ceremonial contexts including burials, or axes discarded on occupation sites) as well as other evidence for their uses (such as what they are made of, their size and shape, and the wear patters on the axe-heads themselves). The term ‘axe-head’ covers objects including but not limited to adzes, chisels, wedges and axes, and so they had many uses, for example to cut trees, to split timber, to trim, in carpentry, and as weapons. The axe may have been strongly associated with male roles in family and the community, and as such may be considered powerful material metaphors layered with symbolism.


Cooney, G 2015. ‘Stone and Flint Axes in Neolithic Europe’, in C Fowler, J Harding and D Hofmann (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Neolithic Europe, Oxford University Press.

Darvill, T 2009, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology: Second Edition,Oxford University Press.

Halstead, P 2000, Neolithic Society in Greece, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Lewis, R; Tsoraki, C; Broughton, J; Cripps, JC; Afodun, SA; Slatter, T; Roubos, V 2011, ‘Abrasive and impact wear of stone used to manufacture axes in Neolithic Greece’, Wear,Vol. 271, No.9-10, pp. 2549-2560.

Perles, C; Monthel, G 2002, The Early Neolithic in Greece: The First Farming Communities in Europe,Cambridge University Press.


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