1. Introduction

1.1 Aims of the study

The work described here is part of a project on the archaeology of the Paris basin carried out by the research unit Archéologie et Sciences de l'Antiquité, based at the Maison de l'Archéologie et de l'Ethnologie, Nanterre (CNRS, Université Paris 1 and Paris 10, Ministère de la Culture). The broad aim of this project is to study territories, exchange and communication networks from the Palaeolithic to the Middle Ages at different scales and within better documented areas. The Seine Valley, westwards of Paris, is one of them.

A particular research programme in the Seine valley focuses on the role of lithic material resources in territories and exchange systems.

One of the themes is based on axe production. We intend to characterise the axe production of flint or other local or imported rocks and identify the production sites. We will also try to compare the different discovery circumstances; for example mine, workshop, settlement or grave. Finally, we want to know more about the diffusion process of ideas, and how the axes spread from their places of origin. Using data on material frequency in each area, we will try to reconstruct long- and short-distance exchange networks.

The study of axes uses information gathered from several sources, including excavation finds, museum collections and surface finds. The last category is the largest one. A database has been constructed. Currently, this database contains entries on more than 700 bifacial pieces or roughouts that have been examined and 1300 polished axes.

1.2 Geographical and chronological context

Figure 1

Figure 1: Geological context for the study area (source :

From a geological point of view, the study area is confined to the tertiary basin and secondary deposits; it generally follows the present boundary between Ile-de-France and Normandy (Fig. 1). A great diversity of lithic material resources was available to tool makers in prehistory, for example secondary or tertiary flint, sandstone and orthoquartzite. In the tertiary basin, although secondary flint outcrops (Cretaceous) do exist, they are limited to valleys, breaks and natural dips (for example along the Vigny synclinal north of the Seine).

1.3 Neolithic chronological sequence and axe production

Overall, settlement of the Paris Basin follows a pattern from east to west. The River Seine is a natural geographical feature, which was used by the first neolithic settlers as they spread westwards towards Normandy. The Linear pottery is the oldest Neolithic culture in this area (Fig. 2). It is represented here, associated with evidence of the latest chronological phase in the Paris Basin, the Villeneuve-saint-Germain culture. The settlements are widespread, and extend across both the Seine valley and the adjacent loess plateau. Evidence suggests that enclosures, long barrows and flint mines started to appear during the middle Neolithic (4700-3400 BC), associated with the cultures of Cerny, Rössen and post-Rössen, Chasséen or Michelsberg, In the late Neolithic (Seine-Oise-Marne: 3400-2800 BC) and final Neolithic (Gord, Bell Beaker: 2800-2200 BC), numerous collective graves were constructed and reused. Individual graves reappeared with Bell Beaker folk.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Chronology.

The first flint axe appears at the end of the Linear pottery sequence, in the Villeneuve-St-Germain culture. Flint axes are numerous from sites dated to the middle, late and end Neolithic. They are often found in collective graves. Metamorphic and igneous rocks, with probable sources in the Armorican massif, the Alps and the Vosges Mountains, are used but rarely on Linear pottery sites; they were used much more widely on sites of middle Neolithic age.

The emergence of flint mines, a significant factor in the development of lithic production systems, dates to the beginning of the middle Neolithic in the mid-5th millennium BC. Little is known about earlier methods of extracting flint. However, specialised manufacturing sites controlling the distribution of lithic products, including axes, were already operating in the early Neolithic. These were specialist sites for the production of ground and polished flint stone axes (Bostyn 1997).


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Last updated: Wed Jul 1 2009