In Search of Hindsgavl: Experiments in the Production of Neolithic Danish Flint Daggers

Article excerpt

This study presents a project which explored the complex production technology of Danish flint daggers of the 'Hindsgavl' type. Whereas the chronology and variation in the Late Neolithic flint dagger sequence are widely understood, the complex lithic technology used to create flint daggers is relatively unexplored. This paper discusses the technology of the most complex and arguably most spectacular of the dagger forms, the type IVe dagger of the 'Hindsgavl' or stitched type (Lomborg 1973).

The main thrust of this article is the importance of innovation to the development of flint dagger technology. Although technological precursors to dagger production were present as far back as the Early Neolithic, unique technological innovations were necessary for the successful production of certain dagger forms. Driven by social and economic demands, these precursors and innovations coalesced in Denmark during the Late Neolithic to produce what are likely the most technologically complex chipped-stone tools found anywhere in the world during prehistory.

The chronological and typological scheme

The first flint daggers in Denmark appeared during the Late Neolithic, at the juncture of the Single Grave and Bell Beaker cultures. Dagger production extended into the Early Bronze Age, ending shortly after 1600 BC. Work by Lomborg (1973a) and more recently by Rasmussen (1990) has effectively illustrated the variation in dagger forms and their associated temporal relationships. Lomborg identified six distinct dagger forms, all having chronological and/or geographical significance [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED].

The emergence of flint dagger production in south Scandinavia is considered to be in response to an influx of metal daggers from central Europe near the close of the 3rd millennium BC. West European Bell Beaker copper daggers are generally considered inspirational templates, both stylistically and ideologically, for the production of Danish flint daggers (see Bronsted 1960: 322-3 for several comparative samples; [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED]). Evidence for a prestige-based social structure among Denmark's west European neighbours offers a parallel to the emerging differentiated social systems in many areas of Denmark near the end of the Neolithic. The fact that imported metal daggers were copied in flint on such a large scale in such a short period is testament indeed to the significance of novel foreign metal goods in Late Neolithic Danish culture (Vandkilde 1993: 147).

Flint daggers have been recovered from a variety of contexts in Scandinavia, including votive caches, grave offerings, settlements and, most frequently, as unassociated stray finds. Although flint daggers are known from all areas of Denmark, the highest concentration is found west of the Great Belt, particularly in northern Jutland. This concentration, particularly in regard to early lanceolate forms, probably reflects specialized dagger production centred around large-scale flint mining at places like Bjerre, near Limfjorden (see Becker 1993). The availability of good quality flint in considerable size made these areas ideal for a craft industry which eventually saw Danish flint daggers travel as far north as Norway (Ebbesen 1993:125).

Beyond the presence of generous flint resources, a rapid population expansion in northern Jutland, particularly in Thy, led to the establishment of a dense population base by the Early Bronze Age (Jensen 1993:133). Thus, while it is likely resource availability was a key component to the establishment of dagger production centres, so too was a growing population base of eager consumers. Intense economic demand coupled with virtually limitless raw material may help explain the rapid development of such a complex technology.

Many dagger types have sub-variants based on outline form, although the significance of this remains somewhat unclear. Some inter-type variation probably reflects differential resharpening intensities or use (the so-called 'Frison effect'; Jelinek 1976: 21), but topologically based distribution differences for some sub-types may reflect group-based style zones within individual dagger forms. …