Witness to a changing World: The Late Neolithic Battle Axe
In Central and Northern Europe, the Final Neolithic (FN) Corded Ware Culture (CWC) is often characterized as being in opposition to the preceding Late Neolithic (LN) cultures. This is primarily due to the CWC's distinct single burial tradition (often with battle axes), which is believed to have been introduced by CWC societies. Pioneering research into ancient DNA (for example, Allentoft et al. 2015 and Haak et al. 2015) supports this notion, as the third millennium BC witnessed dynamic population movements. These movements have been linked to the spread of the CWC and the decline of the pre-existing societies (Kristiansen et al. 2017). The genetic findings brought back simplistic notions of archaeological cultures as monothetic blocks and the CWC, as a uniform group, conquered Europe by force and changed everything forever.
However, recent studies show that migrations and high mobility are not phenomena limited to the third millennium BC (Nielsen & Johannsen 2023; Dunne et al. 2023; Schultrich 2023; Furholt et al. forthcoming), and that the formation processes of the CWC were much more complex and different than expected (Papac et al. 2021). To gain a deeper understanding of the processes involved, it is essential to conduct research on the period preceding the establishment of the CWC.
An analysis of battle axes is particularly suitable for this purpose. The battle axe was a symbol of particular importance in Western and Central Europe during the Younger Neolithic to the FN (c. 4000-2200 BC). Its presence in various materials such as stone, copper, and antler, as well as in art like idols and engravings, supports this assumption. By addressing the desideratum of the French battle axes, the analysis shows that we have to rethink the often assumed 'border' between human groups in Western and Central Europe in the LN and early FN. Significant changes in the frequency of battle axes in burials become evident during the LN, allowing us to reconstruct the emergence of idealised social roles and a warrior-related role in Western, Central and Northern Europe long before the emergence of CWC societies.