Stone Axes (石斧)

Stone axes were a kind of stone tools that were axes made of stone attached to wooden handle. Stone axes were mainly used for felling of trees, soil digging and farming in the Paleolithic period, the Jomon period and the Yayoi period.

Manufacturing Method and Its Change (Examples in Japan)

Paleolithic Period
In late Paleolithic period chipped stone axes or partly ground stone axes were manufactured. In pre-earthenware culture stone axes were called 'ax-shaped stone tool' or 'elliptic stone tool,' and these were made by striking the nearby spots of flat pebble or broken pieces that big gravel shattered into. Partly ground stone axes refer to the axes of which edge part was ground to be utilized. Although single-edged axes were slightly more found, double-edged ones were not a few. From the end of pre-earthenware period to the beginning of the Jomon period, single-edged mikoshiba-style stone axes that assumed the sectional triangular or semi cylindrical shapes became popular. These are believed to be the relics deeply connected with Russian maritime provinces and Siberian region.

Jomon Period
When the Jomon period started, ground stone axes were manufactured in addition to the previously mentioned stone axes. Partly ground stone axes of which edge part was ground in the Paleolithic period gradually disappeared. Stone axes of which all the sides were ground appeared in the beginning of the Jomon period. A technique for cutting by rubbing based on grindstone shaped tool was developed from the beginning to the early Jomon period in Northern Japan. However, this method almost disappeared in the end of the middle Jomon period. Although regularly curved stone axes also appeared with the stone axes based on the technique for cutting by rubbing, it is in the end of the middle Jomon period that these stone axes had regular shape with wide diffusion and a large amount of excavation. In the late Jomon period miniature ground stone axes with the length of 2 to 2.5 centimeters appeared. Many of them were small but very elaborate, and well-polished and beautiful ones increased. Some of them had holes, and these were not considered as practical at all. Because in the end of the Jomon period occult relics developed remarkably, it was believed that ground stone axes increased the meaning as ceremonial vessels and accessories.

On the other hand, as for chipped stone axes single-edged stone axes of which sharp broken side was blade area, in the form of shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese banjo) stick, were found in the Northern Japan in the end of the early Jomon period, and these are called 'direct blade ax' or 'tranche-style stone tool,' and these are believed to be used as 'hand ax' in the following times. After the middle of the middle Jomon period the number of chipped stone axes increased explosively in the Kanto and Chubu regions; many of these assumed the reed, plectrum or counterweight shapes, and not suitable for 'axes' that were vertically brought down. These chipped stone axes were believed to be digging tools because there were other tools more suitable for felling such as mortar shaped ground stone ax or regularly curved ground stone ax.

Application and Diffusion

Partly ground stone axes in the Paleolithic period were used for a wide range of applications such as hunting and disorganizing large-size animals, felling and cutting of trees, and soil digging; that these were partly ground was because when ax was pulled out of the soil and trees, these were able to be pulled out more smoothly.

When permanent residence became common in the Jomon period, chipped stone axes, ground stone axes, and stone axes that were various in size and shape were manufactured for various purposes. It is believed that chipped stone axes were mainly used for digging after the middle of the Jomon period. Although once some people spoke on 'farming in the Jomon period' on the basis of this, we can at least safely say from this that gathering root and stalk held the important position in lives of people in the Jomon period. Meanwhile techniques for grinding were developed gradually, and elaborate ground stone axes appeared. In addition to the practical goods for felling and wood processing, the ones used for religious service increased.

The world's largest ground stone ax (made of green tuff) with the length of 60.2 centimeters and weight of 4.4 kilograms was unearthed from the Uwahaba-iseki Remains of Higashinaruse Village, Akita Prefecture. Although it is regarded as a relic in the early Jomon period, it showed no sign of having been used, so it is seen as a relic for religious service.

Ground stone ax made of pumice was unearthed from the Kitakogane-kaizuka Shell Mounds of Date City, Hokkaido Prefecture. This was also not for practical use. This was thought to be manufactured in the late Jomon period.

Some cartoons such as 'GON, THE STONE-AGE BOY' depicts the scene such as characters uses the tools in which stone ax is fastened to wood handle with string, for capture and killing of animals or fighting; however, only fastening to wooden handle with string is insufficient in strength and durability and unavailable. These tools have never been actually used.

From the early to the middle of the Paleolithic period, stone tools called Akufu (hand axes) were found in great numbers in Europe. Akufu resembled stone axes in shape, and Akufu were used for a variety of applications: Literally gripping these to dig the soil, disorganize animals and shave wood. The original stone axes fit into wood handle appeared after the late Paleolithic period.