While reading Petr Luňák’s excellent work on Great Moravian axes, I was surprised by the sentence “While wooden swords occasionally appear during the Middle Ages (…), wooden axes are unknown to me. Perhaps it was unnecessary to imitate such a ubiquitous object in wood (…)” (Luňák 2018: 108). It shocked me especially because we know several dozen bone and antler axes from the European Middle Ages. To raise awareness of this interesting type of finds, I decided to map bone and antler axes and hammers from medieval Europe. In the following interpretations, I will also take into account the Trans-Ural finds, which can shed interesting light on the corpus. However, it must be said that the list below, which presents 51 finds and three candidates, is the first more serious attempt to deal with a pan-European phenomenon in English, and since it is a problem poorly explored by archaeologists, it is very likely that some artefacts have been omitted. Therefore, I will be happy to be notified if there are any missing finds.
Bone and antler axes and hammers.
Blue colour = whalebone; green colour = bone; yellow colour = antler; gray colour = unknown.
Paulsen’s book Axt Und Kreuz bei den Nordgermanen (1939) and its subsequent extension Axt und Kreuz in Nord- und Osteuropa (1956) are the absolutely essential work in the field of bone and antler axes and hammers. Paulsen mapped out 11 pieces and 1 possible candidate in those books. Artemev (1994) shows a certain reflection of Paulsen and provides information about three more recent Old Rus axes. Paulsen was followed up in 2000 by Mugurēvičs (2000) with his exceptional work mapping 12 new Latvian finds of organic axes and hammers. Further extensions are represented by the work of Plavinskij (Plavinskij 2014) and especially Jeremejev, whose work, which collected 35 axes, is currently the best effort in this field (Jeremejev 2015: 612-625). Other East European researchers who described the Tatarstan and Perm finds – represented by Zakirova (1988), Lenz (2002) and Krylasova (2013) – do not reflect either Paulsen or his followers. Estonian researchers Luik and Haak (2017) similarly reflect only Paulsen. This creates three parallel academical movements that are unaware of each other. Another pitfall accompanying the study of this phenomenon is the fact that organic axes are not incorporated into the same works as their iron counterparts. For example, Kotowicz states at the beginning of his monumental catalog that axes made of materials other than iron are not included (Kotowicz 2014: 7). A researcher looking for organic axes in recent axe monographs would search in vain and might come to believe that finds like these do not exist at all.
Bone and antler axes do not appear to be significantly culture-dependent, but it is important to note that the area where we have evidence of them overlaps strikingly with the area in which moose occur (Belarus, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Ukraine). From the available information, it can be said that moose antler was the preferred material for the production of this type of object. Another possible source of material for the production of axes was the shoulder blades of large animals (Hołubowicz 1938: 95). Whale bone appears in the corpus exceptionally in Greenland. Paulsen argues that the use of organic material indicates a lack of iron ore (Paulsen 1939: 52), however we cannot agree. Organic axes are products deliberately produced for a different purpose.
Even from a cursory examination, it is obvious that we are dealing with a heterogeneous group of artefacts. In terms of shape, they often copy metal variants better or worse, while other times they have very crude shapes and only remotely resemble axes, and others are more similar to hammers. Some keep a sharpened edge, but the greater number have a blunt edge that is 1-2 cm wide. They vary in total length between approx. 6-19 cm, with a large part ranging around 12-15 cm in length. Over half of the collected finds are decorated; the decor varies from a simple braid to an all-over decoration. Finally, the dating of the axes is problematic in itself, but it seems to point to the 10th-15th century. Jeremejev states that the main period of use of organic axes in Old Rus cities occurs in the 13th century, but the phenomenon becomes established already in the 10th-11th century (Jeremejev 2015: 618). These differences make it impossible to interpret objects in only one, universal way. We will try to summarize the theories that could explain the production of these unusual objects.
The most common interpretation of bone and antler axes is that they are children’s toys. Although the axe is the most common Slavic weapon, their wooden imitations intended for children appear exceptionally – in Novgorod, until 1998, 87 wooden swords, 5 knives, 14 bows and only one axe were known, while in Staraja Ladoga 28 wooden swords, 4 spears were discovered and no axe (Jeremejev 2015: 625). A wooden axe from Cieszyn in Poland is interpreted as a toy (Hensel 1965: 208). Antler axes from Pskov (Kildjuševskij 1980) and Roždestvenskoe hillfort (Krylasova 2013), a miniature axe from Trans-Ural Nyagan (11th-12th century, Goskatalog 2023) and imitation axes from the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District and Salechard (Zykov – Kokšarov 2001: 92. Рис. 40, 19) were interpreted as toys. Especially small pieces with a length of 8 cm (Nyagan) can be interpreted in this way. However, one cannot fail to notice that some authors are guided by their own imagination rather than by evidence; Krylasova literally writes: “when traces of a puppy’s teeth were discovered on the axe, we immediately had an image of a child playing with a dog” (Krylasova 2013: 128). On the other hand, Jeremejev points out the conspicuous lack of all-wood axes, which he interprets as the more durable antler axes being more suitable for this purpose.
- training weapon, weapon for the city
If some of the axes were toys, they could have served as teaching props in learning swordsmanship at the same time. Since Luňák suggests that fencing lessons could have taken place with axes protected by cases or wrapped in cloth (Luňák 2018: 108), then organic axes represent a relatively good alternative. Blunt edges can be a reflection of this very practical function. St. Petersburg archaeologist Ivan Jeremejev suggests that the organic axes represent adolescent weapons used in street fights (Pskovskaja Lenta Novostej 2017). The find from the Otepää castle, Estonia has several iron nails driven into the blunt edge, which the authors of the study interpret as meaning that the axe could have served as a fully-functional club (Luik – Haak 2017: 87).
Paulsen mentions the bone axes with shafts being used in the Baltic area as objects representing powerful insignia of dignity and justice until the 18th century (Paulsen 1939: 86; Paulsen 1956: 58).
- test product
Axes may represent test pieces that served as templates for a better estimate of shape or decoration. This theory was used by A. Kirpičnikov for a stone decorated axe from the 10th century, found in Staraja Ladoga (Kirpičnikov – Sarabjanov 2013: 67, 69).
- craft instrument or musical instrument
Lenz suggests that the antler axes from the Anjuškar site are practical antler splitting tools (Lenz 2002: 222). One may ask how the author came to this conclusion, however, such a function should not be ruled out either, especially if we take into account the fact that in some cases axes were found in craft workshops (Mugurēvičs 2000: 64-7; Zakirova 1988: 236, Рис. 100.8) and that some of the hammers we defined resemble mallets in size and shape. An axe could thus be a strong and light hammer or splitting tool, similar to a hammer made of antler (Luik – Haak 2017: 86-7; MacGregor 1985: 171-2). Another theory is that the light hammers may have served as drumsticks (Rainio 2013).
- votive gift
As I have described elsewhere (Vlasatý 2019), the axe as a tool of human labor played an important symbolic role in the cultivation of the land, and thus since prehistoric times we encounter deposited axes that demarcate the boundaries of estates (Rønne 2008; Starý – Kozák 2010: 44- 45). The phenomenon of organic axes may be related to the growth of miniature axes in Eastern Europe and/or the change in the settlement structure of the High and Late Middle Ages (Vlasatý 2019). The theory of votive bone variants of real axes is promoted by Golognev and Zaicev (1992: 12-13) regarding hillfort finds from the 11th-12th centuries from Western Siberia. Moreover, organic axe hammers strongly resemble stone prehistoric axe hammers, which were very popular in the Middle Ages and in the modern era, were collected and actively used in households for their alleged ability to ward off negative agents (e.g. Boudová 2010: 22).
- connection with ceremonies, transition and cyclical rituals
Paulsen mentions the Norwegian and Swedish custom that if a young man married he was given a stick in the shape of an axe as a gift, which was passed down from generation to generation and represented paternal strength, and suggests that the bone axes may reflect the same custom (Paulsen 1939: 86; Paulsen 1956: 59). A good analogy here is are Central European shepherd’s axes. On the other hand, Kulakov and Skvortsov suggest that the bone axes were ritual objects representing the cult of Perkun and used for symbolic stump harvesting at the beginning of spring, which was supposed to mark the beginning of field work (Kulakov – Skvortsov 2000: 184, 188). According to Pskov archaeologists led by Sergey Salmin, organic axes were used during holidays to imitate real combat (Pskovskaya Lenta Novostej 2017).
- cultic object
Mugurēvičs (2000: 70-71) interprets Latvian axes and hammers, which are on average smaller and less elaborate, as cultic objects that served men “to ward off evil spirits, ensure health and fertility, worship celestial bodies and probably to predict the future“. The author bases this theory both on the decoration itself and on the material, which he compares with medieval literary references that describe the use of a bone shovel for divination. However, the factual shortcoming is the fact that bone shovels have been practical tools used since prehistoric times, and are not a specially made divination tool; their use for divination is thus accidental or conditioned by some fact. The fact that organic axes and hammers are so widespread may also indicate that they were rather utilitarian objects that were used in some cases for cultic activities. Darkevič (1961: 91) mentions the existence of a Lithuanian hammer cult in the 15th century.
- a substitute burial object
We should not underestimate the possibility of using these weapons as substitute insignia during funeral rituals, as indicated by some swords in medieval sources and real graves (Vlasatý 2020). In the case of organic axes, this is indicated by finds from Øster Egesborg, from Jaunpiebalga, but also from the Staré Město, where an apparently wooden axe or an object similar to was found in the grave 307/AZ (Luňák 2018: 167-8).
- Mscislaŭ, Belarus. The bone bearded axe, found in 1905 in Mscislaŭ on Castle Hill and now stored in Vilnius, has a circular hole located in the middle of its length. The blade is decorated on both sides with engraved lines and a zigzag ornament, which are oriented parallel to the edge. Axe length 13.8 cm, blade length 9.2 cm. The butt and blade are blunt; the butt has an approximately square cross-section and is convex, the blade is 1.5 cm wide. A second axe found in the town of Mscislaŭ, also decorated and with a circular hole, was discovered in layer B exactly below the fire horizon marking the year 1359 and can thus be dated to the 14th century (Jeremejev 2015: 613-5).
Literature: Jeremejev 2015: 613-5, Рис. П.4.12; Paulsen 1939: 82, Abb. 37.3; Paulsen 1956: 54, Abb. 20c.
The first axe from Mscislaŭ. Paulsen 1939: Abb. 37.3.
The second axe from Mscislaŭ. Jeremejev 2015: Рис. П.4.12.
- Druck (Друцк), Belarus. Two antler axes were found at the hillfort of Druck (Plavinskij 2014: 396-397, Рис. 12.25). One of them has a shaped edge, a blunt blade and a very small, only indicated shaft hole. The second object is an axe hammer.
Literature: Plavinskij 2014: 396-397, Рис. 12.25.
Axes from the hillfort of Druck. Plavinskij 2014: Рис. 12.25.
- Turov (Туров), Belarus. Two roughly worked axes were found in Turov. One of them, an axe without engraved decoration, was found in the 4th stratigraphic level, dated to the first half of the 13th century. The second axe with a spiral ornament was found on the outskirts of Turovo on top of the cultural layer and cannot be dated.
Literature: Jeremejev 2015: 613, Рис. П.4.11; Lysenko 2004: 72-3.
Axes from Turov. Jeremejev 2015: Рис. П.4.11.
- Minsk, Belarus. Two more axes were found during the excavations carried out in the Castle area in Minsk. The first axe was found in 1988 in a layer from the 12th-13th century, it has a blunt blade, a circular opening and a small engraved decoration. The second axe, the exact dating of which is unknown, is a hammer with a circular hole and a damaged face.
Literature: Jeremejev 2015: 613, Рис. П.4.11; Plavinski 2007: 73–74.
Axes from Minsk. Jeremejev 2015: Рис. П.4.11.
- Polock, Belarus. An axe from Polock was discovered during excavations in the Upper Castle. This is a bearded axe with a circular shaft hole, which is decorated with an engraved decoration on both sides. The axe can be dated to the 12th-13th century.
Literature: Jeremejev 2015: 613, Рис. П.4.12; Polock 2012: рис. 36: 7.
The axe from Polock. Jeremejev 2015: Рис. П.4.12.
- Vitebsk, Belarus. The axe from Vitebsk is a bearded axe with a circular opening and a not very blunt edge. Its blade is decorated with engraved lines. The axe can be dated to the 12th-13th century.
Literature: Jeremejev 2015: 613, Рис. П.4.12; Levko 2010: 89–90, рис. 40: 11, фото 29.
The axe from Vitebsk. Jeremejev 2015: Рис. П.4.12.
- Vesterbygden, Greenland (Kbhn.D 11706). A broad axehead made of whalebone, which in its shape resembles a metal axe found in Eirikfjord, Greenland, datable to the 10th-11th century. Length 13 cm, blade length 8.6 cm. One of the sides is polished while the other is left raw. The shaft hole is broken off on one side, the butt appears to be blunt. The edge is kept sharp.
Literature: Paulsen 1939: 80, Abb. 37.1; Paulsen 1956: 52, Abb. 19c; Nørlund 1934: 69.
Whalebone axe from Vesterbygden, Greenland.
Paulsen 1939: Abb. 37.1.
- Øster Egesborg, Denmark (Kbhn. 11776). A middle-wide axe that is polished on all sides and that has an oval shaft hole. It was found in a grave next to the body of the deceased. Length 18.2 cm, blade length 8.2 cm. The butt is blunt, rounded. The edge is kept sharp.
Literature: Paulsen 1939: 80, Abb. 36.1; Paulsen 1956: 52, Abb. 19a.
The axe from Øster Egesborg.
Paulsen 1939: Abb. 36.1.
- Pärnu river, Estonia (PäMu 4 A 1335 Gl 717). Sekera z Pärnu, nalezená mezi lety 1920-6, byla dlouho považována za prehistorický artefakt, dokud nebyla podrobena analýze, která zjistila dataci do 14.-15. století. Sekera je vyrobena z losího parohu a je zřejmě podélně prasklá. Ze zachované většiny sekery je patrné, že násadový otvor byl kruhový a umístěný ve středu délky předmětu. Břit je tupý. List je vyzdoben řadou soustřednými kruhy. The Pärnu axe, found between 1920-6, was long considered a prehistoric artefact until it was subjected to analysis, which found a dating to the 14th-15th century. The axe is made of moose antler and is apparently cracked lengthwise. From the surviving majority of the axe, it is evident that the shaft hole was circular and located in the center of the object’s length. The edge is blunt, the blade is decorated with a series of concentric circles.
Literature: Luik – Haak 2017: 78, 80, Fig. 2.
The axe from Pärnu river. Luik – Haak 2017: Fig. 2.
- Otepää (AI 3371: 289), Estonia. The Otepää Castle axe is made of elk antler and has a circular shaft hole located in the middle of the object’s length. It is almost not tapered. 5 iron nails are driven into the edge and one nail is driven into the butt. Perhaps it is an attempt to strengthen the softer, porous material. The blade is decorated with lines and a rosette on both sides.
Literature: Luik – Haak 2017: 80, Fig. 4.
The axe from Otepää castle. Luik – Haak 2017: Fig. 4.
- Jaungulbene, Latvia (Riga, CVVM 64707, DMI 1857). A broad axe made of moose antler. The opening is located in the middle and is oval in shape with a diameter of 1.5 x 2 cm. The blade of the axe is decorated with pits, which are arranged in such a way that, when viewed from the butt, they represent a cross with a ring hanging from a necklace. Axe length 14 cm, blade length 12.1 cm. The butt and blade are blunt; the butt has an approximately square cross-section measuring 3.5 x 4.3 cm, the edge is very damaged and is approximately 2 cm thick. According to Mugurēvičs, the object is datable to the 12th-13th century.
Literature: Katalog … 1896: 100, Taf. 28.20; Paulsen 1939: 80-1, Abb. 38.2; Paulsen 1956: 53-4, Abb. 21b; Mugurēvičs 2000: 63, 69.
The axe from Jaungulbene.
Paulsen 1939: Abb. 38.2; Paulsen 1956: Abb. 21b.
- Jaunpiebalga, Latvia (Cēsis, CM 8325:3). .A double-sided axe hammer made of moose antler was found in grave no. 4 in the Latvian locality of Jaunpiebalga, in 1960, together with a spear. The opening is located roughly in the middle and is circular in shape with a diameter of 2.3 cm; it contained a piece of handle that was secured with a 7.5 cm long nail. The blade of the ax is decorated with pits arranged in circles and lines. Axe length 11.3 cm, axe width 4.1-4.6 cm. The hammer appears to be blunt, the edge is somewhat sharp. Axe thickness 2.5-3.4 cm. According to Mugurēvičs, the object is datable to the 14th century.
Literature: Mugurēvičs 2000: 63-4, 69, Abb. 1.
The axe from Jaunpiebalga. Mugurēvičs 2000: Abb. 1.
- Koknese, Latvia (Riga, LVI 62/1755). In 1962, in the 2nd excavation in the sub-castle of the Latvian fortress of Koknese, a roughly processed moose antler hammer was found. The hole is circular with a diameter of 1.7 cm. Hammer length 12.6 cm, hammer width 6.7 cm, striking surface thickness 2.7 cm. Both the butt and the face are dull. According to Mugurēvičs, the object is datable to the 12th century.
Literature: Mugurēvičs 2000: 64, 69, Abb. 2.3.
The hammer from Koknese. Mugurēvičs 2000: Abb. 2.3.
- Koknese, Latvia (Riga, LVI 62/2521). In 1962, in the 4th excavation in the Latvian fortress of Koknese, a hammer or axe made of an moose antler was found. The hole is oval-shaped with a diameter of 2.1-2.5 cm, the side of the eye is damaged and broken off together with the front part of the object. The sides of the object are decorated with pit decoration. Length in current condition 9.5 cm, width 6.3 cm, blunt butt dimensions 3.5 × 5 cm. According to Mugurēvičs, the object is datable to the 12th-13th century and was found in connection with a workshop that processed bones.
Literature: Mugurēvičs 2000: 64, 69, Abb. 2.1.
The hammer or axe from Koknese. Mugurēvičs 2000: Abb. 2.1.
- Koknese, Latvia (Riga, LVI 62/7338). In 1962, in the 10th excavation in the sub-castle of the Latvian fortress of Koknese, a worked and slightly curved, squared moose antler axe was found. The opening is oval in shape with a diameter of 1.5-1.8 cm. Axe length 10.7 cm, blade width 7.2 cm, blade thickness 1.6 cm, butt width 3.3 cm. Both the butt and the edge are dull. According to Mugurēvičs, the object is datable to 10th-11th century.
Literature: Mugurēvičs 2000: 64, 69, Abb. 2.2.
The axe from Koknese. Mugurēvičs 2000: Abb. 2.2.
- Koknese, Latvia (Riga). During the excavations in the site of Koknese, one more antler axe was found, which in shape resembles the finds from Jaungulbene, Otepää or Svėdasai, and the decoration is close to the find from Pärnu. The hole is small, about 1 cm in diameter. Both the edge and the butt are blunt. The entire surface is decorated with circular decoration. The date is not set.
Literature: Tomašūns 2020: 121.
The axe from Koknese. Tomašūns 2020: 1. att.
- Sabile, Latvia (Riga, LVI 200/735). In 1977, in the 12th excavation at the Sabile site, a worked hammer made from an moose antler was found. The opening is oval in shape with a diameter of 0.8-1.2 cm. The sides of the object are decorated with pit decoration. The total length is 6.6 cm, the striking edges are 3-3.3 cm wide, the thickness of the object is 1.9 cm. According to Mugurēvičs, the object is datable to the 12th-13th century and was found in connection with a production workshop.
Literature: Mugurēvičs 2000: 67, 69, Abb. 3.2.
The hammer from Sabile. Mugurēvičs 2000: Abb. 3.2.
- Sabile, Latvia (Riga, LVI 200/803). In 1977, a worked moose antler axe was found in the 13th excavation at the Sabile site. The hole is circular with a diameter of 1.2 cm. The sides of the object are decorated with pit decoration. Axe length 8.1 cm, blade width 3.1 cm, edge thickness 2.6 cm. According to Mugurēvičs, the object is datable to the 12th-13th century and was found in connection with a production workshop.
Literature: Mugurēvičs 2000: 67, 69, Abb. 3.3.
The hammer from Sabile. Mugurēvičs 2000: Abb. 3.3.
- Sabile, Latvia (Riga, LVI 200/907). In 1977, a roughly worked moose antler axe was found in the 13th excavation at the Sabile site. The hole is approximately oval in shape with a diameter of 0.6-1.5 cm. Axe length 12.2 cm, blade width 10.7 cm. The edge is blunt. According to Mugurēvičs, the object is datable to the 12th-13th century and was found in connection with a production workshop.
Literature: Mugurēvičs 2000: 67, 69, Abb. 2.6.
The axe from Sabile. Mugurēvičs 2000: Abb. 2.6.
- Sabile, Latvia (Riga, LVI 200/891). In 1977, in the 16th excavation at the Sabile site, a worked hammer made of moose antler was found. The hole is oval in shape with a diameter of 1.3-2.2 cm. The sides of the object are decorated with pit decoration, the faces of the hammer are provided with deep holes. Length of the hammer 7.8 cm, width 3.1 cm, thickness of the object 2.6 cm. According to Mugurēvičs, the object is datable to the 12th-13th century and was found in connection with a production workshop.
Literature: Mugurēvičs 2000: 67, 69, Abb. 3.1.
The hammer from Sabile. Mugurēvičs 2000: Abb. 3.1.
- Sabile, Latvia (Riga, LVI 200/1143). In the 26th excavation at the Sabile site in 1977, a roughly processed moose antler hammer was found. The opening is oval-shaped with a diameter of 1.1-2.2 cm, with a conical profile. Length of the hammer 8.5 cm, width 2.7 cm, thickness of the object 3.5 cm. According to Mugurēvičs, the object is datable to the 12th-14th century and was found in connection with a production workshop.
Literature: Mugurēvičs 2000: 67, 69.
- Daugavpils, Latvia (Riga, LVI 265/312). A moose antler axe was found in 1982 in the 2nd excavation at the Daugavpils site. The hole is oval in shape with a diameter of 1.4-2.1 cm. Axe length 10.9 cm, blade width 7.7 cm, blunt edge thickness 1.9 cm, butt thickness 3.1 cm. The axe is decorated with circular formations and lines arranged in crosses. According to Mugurēvičs, the object can be dated to the 14th century and is related to the hillfort settlement.
Literature: Mugurēvičs 2000: 67-9, Abb. 4.
The axe from Daugavpils. Mugurēvičs 2000: Abb. 4.
- Daugavpils, Latvia (Riga, LVI 265/526). In 1983, a moose antler axe was found in the 1st excavation at the Daugavpils site. The hole is circular with a diameter of 2.1 cm. Axe length 10.5 cm, blade width 7.9 cm, blunt edge thickness 1.6 cm, butt thickness 2.6 cm. According to Mugurēvičs, the object is datable to 12th-13th century and is related to settlement in the hillfort.
Literature: Mugurēvičs 2000: 68-9, Abb. 2.5.
The axe from Daugavpils. Mugurēvičs 2000: Abb. 2.5.
- Daugavpils, Latvia (Riga, LVI 265/1138). In 1984, a moose antler axe was found in the 1st excavation at the Daugavpils site. The hole is circular with a diameter of 1.3 cm. Axe length 9.3 cm, blade width 9.1 cm, blunt edge thickness 1.5 cm, butt thickness 3 cm. According to Mugurēvičs, the object is datable to 12th-13th century and is related to settlement in the hillfort.
Literature: Mugurēvičs 2000: 68-9, Abb. 2.4.
The axe from Daugavpils. Mugurēvičs 2000: Abb. 2.4.
- Salaspils Laukskola, Latvia (Riga). A small antler hatchet, approximately 6 cm long and about 5 cm high, was found in grave 371, which contains brooches, bracelets, a pair of spears and a knife. The hole for the shaft is circular and approximately 1.5 cm in diameter. The dating goes to the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries.
Literature: Zariņa 1988: VII. tab.
The axe from Salaspils Laukskola. Zariņa 1988: VII. tab.
- Rokiškis, Lithuania. A narrow bone axe with a circle or oval handle hole. One side hardly tapers, while the other tapers smoothly. In the line near the edge, the axe is decorated with pits. Axe length 14.2 cm, blade length 8 cm. The butt and edge are blunt; the butt has a square cross-section of approximately 4.3 x 4.5 cm. The axe is apparently stored in Berlin.
Literature: Paulsen 1939: 80, Abb. 36.2; Paulsen 1956: 52-3, Abb. 19b.
The axe from Rokiškis.
Paulsen 1939: Abb. 36.2.
- Svėdasai, Lithuania. A broad axe, apparently found in water near Svėdas in Lithuania, is similar to the previous axe. It is equipped with a circular opening and engraved decorations on the sides. The decoration consists of lines and curves. Axe length 13 cm, blade length 10 cm. The butt and edge are blunt; the butt has an approximately square cross-section and the edge is very damaged. The axe is apparently stored in Kaunas.
Literature: Paulsen 1939: 82, Abb. 38.1; Paulsen 1956: 54, Abb. 21a.
The axe from Svėdas.
Paulsen 1939: Abb. 38.1; Paulsen 1956: Abb. 21a.
- Vilnius, Lithuania. In his blog post, Vaitkevičius (2019) reports on an axe hammer that was found in Gediminas’ Castle Hill (Gedimino kalnas) in Vilnius and which is very similar to the Jaunpiebalga find. According to this author, the discovery took place in 1982 in the 7th horizon, which dates back to 10th-11th century. The axe hammer is made of antler, is 11 cm long and is decorated with swastikas that are placed opposite each other. At the moment, the axe hammer is located in the collections of the Lithuanian National Museum.
Literature: Mačiulis – Kuzmickas 2012: fig. 15; Vaitkevičius 2010: 123; Vaitkevičius 2019.
The axe from Vilnius. Vaitkevičius 2019.
- Jurgaičiai, Lithuania. Two antler objects – a hammer and an axe – were found at the Jurgaičiai site. Both have a circular shaft hole. The hammer is decorated with engraved lines. The axe has a sharp edge.
Literature: Jeremejev 2015: 619, Рис. П.4.14; Mačiulis – Kuzmickas 2012: fig. 14, 18.
The axes from Jurgaičiai. Jeremejev 2015: Рис. П.4.14.
- Czeszowo, Poland (Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Kraków). A broad axe that has the shaft hole moved towards the center of the axe. The opening is rectangular in cross-section. Length 14 cm, blade length 12 cm. The butt and edge are blunt; the edge is 1.5 cm wide.
Literature: Paulsen 1939: 80, Abb. 37.2; Paulsen 1956: 52, Abb. 20a.
The axe from Czeszow.
Paulsen 1939: Abb. 37.2.
- Tarnobrzeg, Poland. A broad axe that has the shaft hole moved towards the center of the axe. The opening is rectangular in cross-section. Length 14.5 cm, blade length 13.5 cm. The butt and edge are blunt. On one side of the blade, a braid is visible. The axe is cracked in a line from the butt to the blade.
Literature: Paulsen 1956: 58, Abb. 20b.
The axe from Tarnobrzeg. Paulsen 1956: Abb. 20b.
- Bydgoszcz, Poland. The bearded axe, found during the excavation of a sewer in the Rybi Rynek square, faithfully imitates a metal model and is one of the most decorated representatives of organic axes. It has a circular opening, with the eye destroyed on one side. The axe is decorated with engraved lines and a zigzag ornament on all four sides. Axe length 12.5 cm, blade length 8.8 cm. The butt may have originally been bulging. The edge is blunt and has a width of 1.5 cm. The axe is apparently stored in Bydgoszcz.
Literature: Paulsen 1939: 82, Abb. 37.4; Paulsen 1956: 54, 58, Abb. 20d.
The axe from Bydgoszcz.
Paulsen 1939: Abb. 37.4.
- Ełk, Poland. The moose antler axe found in Ełk, Poland is among the most decorated representatives of organic axes. It has a circular hole that is located in the middle of the length. On all four sides, the axe is decorated with engraved lines, floral ornament, ring ornament, braids and crosses. Axe length 14.5 cm, blade length 10.5 cm. Both butt and edge are blunt, the edge is 2 cm wide. The axe is slightly curved. Based on the decoration, Paulsen suggests dating to the 12th-13th century. The axe was stored in a Kaliningrad museum, its current fate is unclear.
Literature: Paulsen 1939: 82, Abb. 39; Paulsen 1956: 58, Abb. 22.
The axe from Ełk. Paulsen 1939: Abb. 39.
- Deučevo (Деушево), Tatarstan, Russia. Very similar to the previous axe is the axe found in Deučevo, Tatarstan. The hole is circular in cross-section. The butt and edge are blunt.
Literature: Paulsen 1939: 80, Abb. 36.4; Paulsen 1956: 52, Abb. 19a; Tallgren 1918: Taf. VI.37.
The axe from Deučevo.
Paulsen 1939: Abb. 36.4.
Novgorod, Russia. The bone axe from Novgorod stands out in the group because it is six-sided. It has a circular shaft hole and is decorated with engraved S-shaped waves. It was found in a context-free environment, so dating it is difficult.
Literature: Artemev 1994: Рис. 5.
The axe from Novgorod. Artemev 1994: Рис. 5.
Nižnij Novgorod and Pskov, Russia. In addition to Novgorod, Artemev also mentions analogical finds from Nižnij Novgorod and Pskov, where individual axes with different decorations were found. Kiljuševskij states that the axe found during excavations on May Day street in Pskov copies the axes of the 14th-15th century and is child’s game. Unfortunately, we do not have their detailed documentation available. In 2017, the local Pskov press reported that another organic axe had been found, this time in the Mstislavsky excavation in Pskov (Pskovskaja Lenta Novostej 2017). The find is only fragmentary, but it is evident that it has a blunt edge, a blade decorated with a protrusion and pits arranged in the shape of a cross.
Literature: Artemev 1994: Рис. 5; Kildjuševskij 1980; Pskovskaja Lenta Novostej 2017.
Fragmentary axe from Pskov. Pskovskaja Lenta Novostej 2017.
Roždestvenskoe hillfort, Perm, Russia. Two organic axes were found during an archaeological expedition at the Roždestvenskoe hillfort in the Perm Oblast in 2008-2011. The first one, apparently made of moose antler, was discovered in 2010 in excavation VII and has a bearded shape, length 9.7 cm, blade width 5.8 cm, has a blunt edge and is decorated with pits. The second axe was discovered in 2011 in excavation V, has a length of 10.5 cm and a maximum blade width of 4.2. The second hatchet is also decorated with a pit decoration, and has been gnawed by a dog all over the surface. This fact leads Krylasova to the assumption that these are children’s toys that can be dated to the 12th and 13th centuries.
Literature: Krylasova 2013.
Axes from Roždestvenskoe hillfort. Krylasova 2013: Рис. 1.
Kylasovo hillfort (Кыласово городище), Perm, Russia. Lenz described two antler objects from the Kylasovo hillfort (Anjuškar in Permian), one of which fits into the narrower group of axes defined by us. The axe is modeled, has an oval eye, a hammer-shaped butt and a sharp edge. There is a round perforation in the blade, which is decorated with an engraving of a bird’s footprint. The objects are interpreted as antler splitting tools. The date points towards the 12th-14th. century.
Literature: Lenz 2002: 222, Рис. 70.13-14.
Axes from Kylasovo hillfort. Lenz 2002: Рис. 70.13-14.
Bulgar, Tatarstan, Russia. A double-sided antler axe hammer with a circular eye and blunt edges was found in the pit-house 3 in excavation 36 in Bulgar, Tatarstan. It is decorated with concentric ring decoration. The building in which the object was found, which dates back to the 13th century, is interpreted as a knife workshop.
Literature: Zakirova 1988: 236, Рис. 100.8.
The axe from Bulgar. Zakirova 1988: Рис. 100.8.
- The border of Jurjevy Gory, Usvjat (Урочище Юрьевы Горы, Усвят), Russia. During the 2nd excavation, an antler axe was discovered, corresponding in shape to the broad axe of Petersen’s type M. The opening is circular, conically narrowing upwards. The edge is blunt. The object can be dated to 10th-13th century.
Literature: Jeremejev 2015: 283-4, Рис. 165.
The axe from the border of Jurjevy Gory. Jeremejev 2015: Рис. 165.
- Toropec, Russia. V souvislosti s budovou č. 19 v lokalitě Toropec byla nalezena parohová sekera bez násadového otvoru. Sekera má tupý, poškozený břit, a není dekorovaná. V budově byl také nalezen fragment bronzového svícnu typického pro 12.-13. století. An antler axe without a shaft hole was found in connection with building no. 19 in the site of Toropec. The axe has a blunt, damaged edge and is not decorated. A fragment of a bronze candlestick typical of the 12th and 13th centuries was also found in the building.
Literature: Jeremejev 2015: 619, Рис. П.4.12.
The axe from Toropec. Jeremejev 2015: Рис. П.4.12.
- Voronič, Russia. An antler axe with a circular hole and a blunt edge was found in excavation 5 in 2004 along with ceramics. It can be dated to the 12th-13th century.
Literature: Jeremejev 2015: 615, Рис. П.4.15.
The axe from Voronič. Jeremejev 2015: Рис. П.4.15.
- Znamenka, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia. A candidate for a semi-finished axe is an antler find from Znamenka (Hoppenbruch), discovered in the 19th century. This item is missing a shaft hole. One side hardly tapers, while the other tapers smoothly. The side of the object is decorated with crosses and semicircles, on the basis of which Paulsen dates it to the 11th century. Item length 13 cm, blade length 8.5 cm. The butt is dull, the edge is sharp, but sloped.
Literature: Paulsen 1939: 80, Abb. 36.3.
Possible half-product of an axe from Znamenka.
Paulsen 1939: Abb. 36.3.
- Verchnestrizhenskoe 2 (Верхнестриженское 2), Ukraine. In 1984-5, a pit with Old Rus ceramics and a roughly worked antler axe without a hole and with a blunt edge was discovered in this locality. This is the oldest find on the territory of Old Rus.
Literature: Gorjunova et al. 1985; Jeremejev 2015: 615-8, Рис. П.4.16.
The axe from Verchnestrizhenskoe 2. Jeremejev 2015: Рис. П.4.16.
- Kyiv, Ukraine. Another candidate may be a worked piece of antler from Kyiv, which takes the shape of an axe with a sharp edge. The object is not provided with a hole. On the blade, the braid is highlighted that allows dating to 10th-11th century.
Literature: Jeremejev 2015: Рис. П.4.16; Sergejeva 2011: табл. 24, 64.
Possible axe from Kyiv. Sergejeva 2011: табл. 24, 64.
The preparation of this article could not be done without the help of Aleksandra Shchedrina, who selflessly provided me with Russian material and helped with its translation. I am very grateful for this help and express my thanks.
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