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Author Topic: Neolithic Quarries of Mont Viso, Piedmont, Italy  (Read 180 times)
Description: Jadeite for cult axes
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« on: July 03, 2007, 10:55:59 AM »

Monte Viso seen from the Col de Chamoussiere
Monte Viso is the location of a neolithic jadeite quarry, at an elevation of 2000 to 2400 metres. The height of its usage was around 5000 BC. The jadeite was used to make cult axes, which are found all over western Europe.

Initial Radiocarbon Dates
European Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 9, No. 1. (1 April 2006), pp. 7-30.

    * Petrequin P, Errera M, Petrequin A, Allard P


    Two groups of quarries (Mont Viso and Mont Beigua, Italy) were the source of the Alpine axeheads that circulated throughout western Europe during the Neolithic. The quarries on Mont Viso (Oncino: Porco, Bule and Milanese), discovered in 2003, have been radiocarbon-dated, and this has revealed that the exploitation of jadeites, omphacitites and eclogites at high altitude (2000--2400 m above sea level) seems to have reached its apogee in the centuries around 5000 BC. The products, in the form of small axe- and adze-heads, were distributed beyond the Alps from the beginning of the fifth millennium, a few being found as far away as the Paris Basin, 550 km from their source as the crow flies. However, it was not until the mid-fifth millennium BC that long axeheads from Mont Viso appeared in the hoards and monumental tombs of the Morbihan, 800 km from the quarries. Production continued until the beginning of the third millennium BC, but at this time the distribution of the products was less extensive, and the process of distribution operated in a different way: tools made from jadeite and eclogite are still found in the French Jura, but the extraction sites at the south-east foot of Mont Viso no longer seem to have been used. The variability in the geographical extent of the distribution at different times seems to be related to the social context of exploitation of the high-altitude quarries, which were only ever accessible for a few months each year. 10.1177/1461957107077703

Jadeite axe-head

This axe-head was made about 4,500 years ago of Jadeite from the Alps of Northern Italy and is one of the finest of its type ever found in the British Isles. Its craftsmanship and high polish makes us believe it was a purely ceremonial piece. Some people believe that such axes were initially practical tools that repeatedly changed hands; were re-polished, re-used and only gradually became ceremonial.

* jadeite.pdf (312.14 KB - downloaded 5 times.)
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« Reply #1 on: July 03, 2007, 08:08:08 PM »

" Some people believe that such axes were initially practical tools that repeatedly changed hands; were re-polished, re-used and only gradually became ceremonial. " If that is the case, then there ought to be used and broken specimens found. I have been unable to determine if these used/broken specimins have been so found.


Note the date in the article below, the 90 days has passed, and the artifact may have been sold and exported by now.

4 March 2007

Export bar placed on Neolithic 'Jadeite' axe-head

   British Culture Minister, David Lammy, has placed a temporary export bar on a 'jadeite' Neolithic axe-head that once formed part of the collection of one of the fathers of British archaeology. This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the axe-head, which dates from before 4000 BCE, in the United Kingdom.

     The Minister's ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, run by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the axe-head is so closely connected with British history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune, of outstanding aesthetic importance and of outstanding significance for the study of Neolithic Britain.

     Found near Sturminster Marshall, this Neolithic axe-head is a particularly fine specimen, beautifully shaped and polished, which shows off with considerable sophistication the tonalities and gradations of the fine hard 'jadeite' stone from which it is manufactured. Its importance is further enhanced by the fact that it once formed part of the historic collection of Lt-General Augustus Pitt Rivers, now recognised as one of the fathers of British archaeology.

     Such axes were never functional, but were already high status 'heirlooms' when they reached Britain around 6000 years ago, having been made some centuries before from rock quarried in the Italian Alps. New research is contributing much to our understanding of them and their meaning in the lives of those who made and acquired them.

     The decision on the export licence application for the axe-head will be deferred for a period ending on 20 April inclusive. This period may be extended until 20 July inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the axe-head at the recommended price of �24,000 (excluding VAT) is expressed. Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the axe-head should contact the owner's agent through: The Secretary, The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council - Victoria House, Southampton Row, London WC1B 4EA (UK).

Case 28 2006-07:   Neolithic �jadeite� axe-head

Expert Adviser�s Statement

   Acting as Expert  Adviser, I wish to make a formal objection to the export of this Neolithic axe-head. The axe-head is held to satisfy Waverley criteria 1 and 3.

   The �jadeite� axe is a beautifully shaped and polished specimen, which shows off with considerable sophistication the tonalities and gradations of the fine hard stone from which it is manufactured. An inscription, carefully painted on in white lettering, records its provenance as �NEWTON PEVERILL, STURMINSTER MARSHALL, PRESENTED BY MRS CARTWRIGHT.� It once formed part of an historic collection, that of Lt.-General Augustus Pitt-Rivers, housed in the museum which he established around 1885 at Farnham on Cranborne Chase to display his own excavated finds as well as some of his diverse collections, some local, some from far afield. Pitt Rivers was one of the foremost archaeologists and anthropologists of his age, and the museum was a remarkable reflection of a pioneering archaeologist�s work and interests. It remained open until after the death of his grandson in 1966, when it was found to be too costly to keep up. Some finds had by then already been sold; most of the remaining British collection went to the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum; the rest (mainly ethnographic, but including some mainly non-local archaeological items) was dispersed.

   Axes of this type are relatively rare in Britain, but they are of great significance. Brought into Britain from the earliest Neolithic (c 4000 BC) they were already 'heirlooms' having been made some centuries before, from rock quarried from sources in the Italian alps. The term �jadeite� (with its inverted commas) is that generally agreed to describe pyroxene jade while the non-scientific term jade can be used for any of the greenish axes regardless of exact composition. It is clear is that these attractive rocks were highly regarded in prehistory.

   The Newton Peverill, Sturminster Marshall axe was examined by W Campbell Smith and published in his first list of British jade axes in 1963. Non-destructive optical inspection suggested that it was �almost certainly pyroxene near jadeite�. It was also mentioned by Piggott and Powell ((1948-9) in connection with the discovery of a fragment of an example at the Neolithic tomb of Cairnholy I.  A �jadeite� axe was placed beside the Neolithic Sweet Track (constructed 3807/3806 BC across marshy ground in the Somerset Levels), probably as an offering. The British Museum has just eight jade axes with British provenances, the finest of which is that from Canterbury and is featured on the Museum�s Compass website.
   Waverley criterion 1, under which an object�s close connexion with (in this case) local history means that its departure would be a misfortune, is arguably met on two grounds.
First, it is of a rare type in Britain and particularly so in Dorset. The status held by these exotic axes in the Neolithic period gives it a powerful resonance in its local context, the more so as it seems that such axes were already ancient heirlooms, the more prized the further they had travelled from their distant source in the Italian Alps.
Second, its association with the famous museum founded by Lt.-General Pitt Rivers at Farnham greatly adds to its intrinsic importance. The dispersal of that remarkable collection was a huge loss both to the local history of the region, and to the study of the pioneering days of English archaeology. Restoring the axe to an appropriate local collection would contribute significantly to the appreciation of the work of a great archaeologist, as well as to that of the region�s remote past.

   Waverley criterion 3, that of an object�s outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history, is also held to be met in this case.
This type of axe has for long been the subject of archaeological and petrological research; when the third supplement to the catalogue of jade axes from the British Isles was published by Jones et al. in 1977, 104 were known, a number which will not have increased by many. Ongoing research is adding valuable new information about the various histories of these axes, their origin in identifiable quarry sites and their subsequent movement. It appears that the farther they travelled from source, the more symbolic significance they accrued. Small, workaday axes made from green stone are extremely common on the continent of Europe. It was the larger, thinner, beautifully worked and highly polished examples which had added value. Those reaching these shores were likely to have been regarded as rare, precious and charged with meaning. The reappearance of this splendid example will enable it to be available for ongoing study and investigation, and thus to contribute to the scholarly and public understanding of these rare and beautiful objects, their social context, and the part they played in long-distance relations some 6,000 years ago.


W Campbell Smith 1963 �Jade axes from sites in the British Isles�. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 29, 133-72
V Jones, A C Bishop and A R Woolley 1977 'Third supplement to the catalogue of jade axes from sites in the British Isles'. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 43, 287-294
S Piggott and T G E Powell 1951 �The excavation of three Neolithic chambered tombs in Galloway, 1949�. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 83, 103-61
P Petrequin, A-M Petrequin, M Errera,S Cassen et C Croutsch 2006 �Complexit� technique et valorisation sociale: haches polies de Nouvelle-Guin�e et du N�olithique Alpin�. Normes techniques et pratiques socials: de la simplicit� des outillages pr�- et protohistoriques. XXVIe rencontres internationales d�arch�ologie et d�histoire d�Antibes, eds. L Astruc et al.
B and J Coles 1986 Sweet Track to Glastonbury. The Somerset Levels in Prehistory. Thames and Hudson.
Leslie Webster
22 January 2007


Learning is a treasure which accompanies its owner everywhere.
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« Reply #2 on: July 03, 2007, 08:11:19 PM »

Item: axe axehead

Jadeite axe head, thin lenticular section, ancient breaks at blade end.


Jadeite axe Although found in Methlick, Aberdeenshire, the raw material or this highly polished ceremonial axehead originated in the Alps, demonstrating that the links between the North-East of Scotland and continental Europe by the North Sea and the Rhine date back as far as 5000 years ago.


   During the later Neolithic some finely-made, highly-polished axes were made of a green stone known as jadeite, from the Alps. The axes were among the earliest items brought to the east coast of Britain along a route through the Rhineland, which is used up to the present day. Too fine to be used as tools, they would have been symbols of status, and were deliberately buried as hoards or in significant places. This is one of six jadeite axe-heads from the North East Scotland.

   This axe has a triangular shape, with a pointed butt and curved blade, with the cutting edge extending around the perimeter. The cross-section is a flattened lens-shape. The axe is broken and chipped at the blade end. Its flat, triangular shape is typical of jadeite axe-heads from northern Britain. Unusually this one was found recently in a secure context, at Blackhouse Farm, Methlick, Aberdeenshire.



Learning is a treasure which accompanies its owner everywhere.
Tags: Italy jadeite Neolithic polished axeheads quarries 
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