Flint and Metal Daggers in Scandinavia and Other Parts of Europe. A Re-Interpretation of Their Function in the Late Neolithic and Early Copper and Bronze Age
Skak-Nielsen, Niels V., Antiquity
In much of Late Neolithic and Early Copper/Bronze Age Europe, the dagger--made of metal or flint--was the main prestige item deposited in male graves. In the preceding period weapons such as the battle axe had been the rule, and in the subsequent Bronze Age the dagger was replaced by the sword. As the dagger could be used as a weapon, nearly all scholars have interpreted it as such. It is argued in this paper that the intended use of the dagger was in fact quite different: it was an implement for the slaughter and sacrifice of livestock.
Daggers in Scandinavia and beyond
From the end of the Single Grave culture about 2400 cal BC until well into the Bronze Age after 1700 cal BC, the flint dagger was the main prestige item deposited in male graves in Denmark. Figure 1 shows two Danish-made flint daggers, an early lanceolate one and a late fishtail-shaped dagger. Making them demanded great manual dexterity (Apel 2001:41-3). Daggers were made around the Limfjord inlet in northern Jutland and along the eastern shores of Zealand and Mon, where good flint is particularly abundant, and several flint-mining sites are known. Daggers were made over a period of almost eight centuries (Apel 2001: 324). In Denmark, most are found in graves or as stray finds (including wetland deposits). Many hoards are known, indicating offerings or dagger trade (Lomborg 1973: 64). However, some of the stray finds may originate from destroyed graves and it is not possible to decide to what extent other stray finds may have been offerings. The find contexts thus do not provide any decisive information about the use of the daggers.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
The daggers are symmetrical along an axis from point to butt, sharply pressure-flaked along both edges and pointed. Regardless of type, they are thin: usually no thicker than 8-12mm. The length varies: usually the daggers measure 100-300mm, but longer ones occur. The length measurements are not, however, very enlightening, as many daggers have been retouched on the edges as well as the point, which shortened them.
Ebbe Lomborg (1973) who developed a chronology for Danish daggers studied more than 6000 flint daggers. Apel (2001: 280) registered c. 4500 daggers in Sweden, 1600 of them in Scania, a province with evidence for dagger production. His sample was far from complete. Norway has almost 1500 daggers and northern Germany c. 3500 (Apel 2001: 294-5). A considerable number of daggers made in Denmark have also been found elsewhere in continental Europe. They were most likely distributed through barter (Vandkilde 2000: 36-7). To the collected daggers must be added an unknown number that has not be found and also such that ended up, after repeated repairs, as spearheads or arrowheads.
Daggers of flint were also made in flint-rich areas elsewhere in Europe. Important examples are Poland, England, southern Germany and at Grand Pressigny on the Loire in France (Lomborg 1973: 87-8). During the mid-third millennium cal BC, the latter area exported large numbers of daggers to Central and Western Europe (Lomborg 1973: 87-8; Rassmann 1993: 17). These daggers differ from the later Scandinavian flint daggers in several aspects. In particular, most of their blades have a curved outline.
A bog in Lower Saxony has produced an early flint dagger presumably made in Denmark, still in its leather sheath, with a wooden handle and straps probably used for fastening it to a belt. The position of daggers found in graves confirms that they were carried in this way (Lomborg 1973: 26).
When exported to continental Europe, Scandinavian flint daggers had to compete with those made in copper and bronze, which had already been in use there for some time. There are no indications that metal and flint daggers were used in different ways. Scholars agree that the mental template of the flint dagger reached Denmark from the south (Lomborg 1973: 18-19, 87-95; Apel 2001: 248-51; Vandkilde 2005: 26). …