Material Principles and Economic Relations Underlying Neolithic Axe Circulation in Western Europe

Selina Delgado-Raack, Roberto Risch*, Francisco Martínez-Fernández, Martí Rosas-Casals

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Neolithic societies produced and circulated axeheads made out of different rock types over substantial distances. These tools were indispensable to their economic reproduction, but they also demanded considerable manufacturing efforts. The material properties of the raw materials chosen to produce axeheads had a direct effect on the grinding and polishing processes, as well as on the use life of these tools. However, surprisingly little is known about the criteria followed by these societies when it came to choosing adequate raw materials, or why certain rocks were exploited in greater volumes and circulated over larger distances than others. In order to determine the material parameters ruling axe production, circulation, and use, a range of different rock types was submitted to mechanical tests. For the first time, comparative values relating to the resistance to friction and to breakage are presented for some of the most important rock types used for the manufacture of axeheads by the Neolithic communities of Western Europe. These mechanical parameters allow us to approach hypothetical production and use values, which are then correlated with the distances travelled and the volumes of rock in circulation. This combination of petrographic, mechanical, and paleo-economic information leads to new understandings of the principles ruling Neolithic supply and distribution networks and the economic rationale behind them. It reveals how deeply the economic and symbolic meanings of these outstanding Neolithic artefacts were rooted in their production and use values.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)771-798
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Archaeological Method and Theory
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • Material sciences
  • Mechanical properties
  • Neolithic exchange
  • Petrographic characterisation
  • Stone axes
  • Value theory


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