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A decorated axe from across the Channel: A remarkable find from Friesland (the Netherlands)

Arnoldussen, S., Steegstra, H. & van Leeningen, J., 2020, In : Lunula Archaeologia protohistorica. 28, p. 43-48 6 p.

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The implications of the recent additions of two Bronze Age axes from Drachten are numerous. First, the axe decorated with lozenge-facets testifies to the far-reaching contacts Bronze Age communities had. Whilst we by no means can argue (nor exclude!) a direct exchange between communities around the Irish sea and those of the northern Netherlands, in the networks that bounded these societies together, bronzes of exotic – cross-channel – origin figured prominently (Fontijn 2009: 133-136). Their outspoken, non-local, appearance (cf. Fontijn 2009: 142; Arnoldussen 2015: 24) may have been instrumental to their incorporation into hoards (e.g. Haverman & Sheridan 2006), deposition in stream-valleys (e.g. Van der Sanden 2014: 29), burials (e.g. Fontijn 2003: 60 tab. 5.1) and as single objects (e.g. Butler & Steegstra 1997/1998: 178). In such an emic perception of goods exchanged, social rather than geographic origins will have mattered to exchange partners, and information on exact origins of objects may have been imprecise, moot or mythicized (cf. Fontijn 2009: 140-142). The embellished Drachten flat axe (DB2864), was presumably – like many other imports from ‘far flung places’ (Fontijn 2009: 139) – deposited in a wetland part of the landscape (Fig. 5, right). The fact that the undecorated flat axe DB2865 – for which a continental (central German or even local) origin is plausible - ended-up in the same landscape zone, again stresses that objects of various origins were allowed to be (or even preferably? Cf. Arnoldussen 2015; Fontijn 2009: 140) mixed upon deposition. Second, the two new Drachten axes suggest that this part of the Netherlands was occupied by communities practicing similar deposition practices to communities elsewhere. Whereas Fontijn (2009: 140) previously argued that in the Northern Netherlands insular imports are chiefly represented by rare ornaments (i.e. Haverman & Sheridan 2006) and aggrandized ceremonial weapons (i.e. Butler 1987: 32; Butler & Hogestijn 1988; Fontijn 2001), the current finds strongly suggest that in the northern Netherlands, insular axes figure in deposition just as they do elsewhere (e.g. Fontijn 2008; 2009: 144-147 tab. 8.1; Fontijn & Roymans 2019). Our analysis of the original context of deposition for the Bronze Age artefacts from Friesland is in strong agreement with this: a wetland depositional context can be argued for 10 of the 12 axes represented (Fig. 5). Third, the distribution of Bronze Age artefacts presently known from Friesland suggest that our palaeogeographical reconstructions of the Bronze Age underestimate the size and locations of inhabitable areas (Fig. 6). Whereas most of the bronzes are recovered from the eastern part of the province of Friesland – where the glacial boulder-clay plateau dips towards the west – no less than ten additional findspots are mapped to the west of the presently discussed axes. Assuming that local communities did not boat-out for tens of kilometres from the eastern boulder-clay outcrops towards the peatbogs (even if navigable) in the west (but see Samson 2006: 380; 384), the obvious interpretation would be that in the eastern parts of Friesland, many more yet unmapped inhabitable boulder-clay outcrops most have existed (cf. Nicolay et al. 2019: 52 fig. 19c vs. Vos et al. 2018: 53).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-48
Number of pages6
JournalLunula Archaeologia protohistorica
Volume28
Publication statusPublished - 2020

ID: 119042165