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Journal Articles Rivista di scienze preistoriche Year : 2020

Alpine jades in the European Neolithic


- Alpine jades in the European Neolithic - The ANR-funded programmes JADE 1 (2007-2011) and JADE 2 (2013-2017) inves-tigated the production and the extraordinary diffusion of axeheads (large and small) made of Alpine jades on a Europe-wide scale. The phenom-enon began during the middle of the sixth millennium BC and ended over the course of the third millennium BC. The precious jades (jadeitite, om-phacitite and fine-grained eclogite) were exploited at high altitude as well as among the torrent cones of the two Italian Alpine massifs, Mont Viso and Mont Beigua. Two technical traditions of shaping roughouts—one in-volving percussion, the other sawing—supplied networks of contacts that were orientated in different directions. The products travelled over much of Europe, with a few reaching central Europe and the Balkans as far as the Black Sea, moving along routes and at distances up to 1800 km as the crow flies.The authors set out here to explore the complexity of the networks over which the axeheads travelled and to attempt to account for the causes of this spatially extensive phenomenon that endured for nearly three millennia. The importance of elites’ social imagination is the best way to understand the religious sys-tems that were in play: these systems determined that only powerful individu-als were allowed to handle large Alpine axeheads, depositing them in hoards consecrated to the gods. This explanation accounts for the major phase of Al-pine axehead movement that began around 4700 BC with the flow of axeheads towards Brittany and which ended around 3800-3600 BC with the arrival of axeheads in Germany, Britain and Ireland. Our hypothesis thus stands in stark contrast with the commonly-held (and unsubstantiated) view of some geolo-gists that Alpine axeheads were made from flat cobbles taken from torrent beds and that they moved, as ordinary prestige goods, in a ‘down-the-line’ fashion. Our hypothesis offers a new perspective on Neolithic societies in western Eu-rope, seeing them as inegalitarian in nature, with epicentres in Brittany and the Paris Basin. These two regions had a mythology that featured jade axeheads as being male symbols.
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hal-02989679 , version 1 (05-11-2020)


  • HAL Id : hal-02989679 , version 1


Pierre Pétrequin, Anne-Marie Pétrequin, Alison Sheridan, Serge Cassen, Estelle Gauthier, et al.. Alpine jades in the European Neolithic. Rivista di scienze preistoriche , 2020, LXX, S1 (numero speziale), pp.99-107. ⟨hal-02989679⟩
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