When you think of a Stone Age hand axe, you could imagine a simple teardrop shape carved out of flint. However, Archaeologists in Denmark have unearthed a rare 5,500-year-old axe complete with its wooden handle.
The Neolithic tool was revealed during a dig to prepare for a tunnel and may have been rammed into the ground as some sort of ritual offering.
The flint axe’s wooden handle was preserved because the tool was shoved into the clay seabed, where oxygen could not reach it, according to archaeologists at the Museum Lolland-Falster.
The team uncovered the tool in Rodbyhavn on the Danish island of Lolland, which will be connected to the German island of Fehmarn when the tunnel is built.
‘Finding a hilt axe that is so well preserved is absolutely incredible,’ said Søren Anker Sørensen, an archaeologist at the museum.
Because of the unique preservation conditions, we have found much organic matter in the course of the excavations, including a large number of…candlesticks.
Dr told MailOnline: ‘Two wooden paddles, also placed verticalyl in the seabed, eight wooden spears and six axe handles without the axes, are some of the many spectacular finds we discovered.
‘In the same area we have found depositions of ceramic and animal bones, in one concentration we found about 60 jaws from different animals, together with two antler axes made from red deer antler, both with small pieces of the wooden handles preserved in the shaft holes.
Dr Sørensen said that then the team saw most of the axe stuck 12 inches (30cm) into the ground, they knew they had ‘a unique find’.
Stone Age people living in the area used such axes for working wood and they played a role in converting Europe into an agricultural region, because dense forests had to be cleared to make way for fields in which to grow crops or let animals graze.
But the experts believe the axe played a role in religious life at the time too.
With the introduction of agriculture, societies became more hierarchical and religion became more important too.
The archaeologists say that the communities of south Lolland may have used the coast as an offering area and nearby marshes and wetlands show signs of burial customs and rituals, in the forms of large stone graves.
‘The vertical objects found in the excavations east of Rødbyhavn, clearly shows that people have used the coast [as a] sacrifice area,’ they said.
The experts believe that objects such as the axe were ‘deliberately’ stabbed in underground clay as part of a ritual.
Dr Sørensen explained: ‘The interpretation as a ritual find is mainly based on the fact that many of the artefacts are placed vertically in the ground, which is not the normal way for artefacts in an archaeological context.
‘It tells us that the axe and other artefacts are placed on purpose in the shallow water just off the coast and there are no obvious functional or profane explanation for this. That’s why we see it as ritual depositions.
So far, the excavations have also revealed uncovered 5,000-year-old footprints and archaeologists hope to discover more interesting offerings buried in the clay.