An adze in use
Destinations by DES - Desislava Panteva Photography / Getty Images

An adze (sometimes spelled adz) is a wood-working tool, similar to an axe. The shape of the adze is sometimes the same as an axe, broadly rectangular, but the blade is attached at a right angle to the handle rather than straight across. To use an axe, you chop down vertically through a piece of wood: for an adze, you swoop the blade horizontally across the plane of the wood to strip out thin layers.

Earliest Adzes

Adzes are among the earliest type of stone tool identified in the archaeological record ​and recorded regularly in Middle Stone Age Howiesons Poort sites such as Boomplaas Cave, and Early Upper Paleolithic sites throughout Europe and Asia. Some scholars argue for the presence of proto-adzes in some Lower Paleolithic sites.

A typical adze is made of stone, shaped into a roughly rectangular form by flint knapping and then by grinding the working end into a more or less straight and somewhat pointed elongated edge. Sometimes well-worked, small adze blades are called "celts".

Once metallurgy became available, adzes were made of bronze, and eventually iron. An adze is identified partly by its shape, and partly by the evidence for differential hafting pattern.

Adzes and Wealth in First Farmers

Adzes were the center of recent research among burials from the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) Neolithic culture in Europe.

The LBK is the name given to the people that brought farming into Europe from the Hungarian Plain, beginning about 5500 cal BC. Adzes associated with the LBK are finely ground and shaped flint tools, and when they are found in burials, they are considered a signal that the individual was an elite.

  • Read more about the LBK

    The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in May 2012, used strontium isotope analysis of tooth enamel from more than 300 human remains from early LBK sites in the Czech Republic (Vedrovice), Germany (Aiterhofen and Schetzingen), Slovakia (Nitra), Austria (Kleinhadersdorf) and France (Ensisheim and Soffelweyersheim).

    Strontium isotopes are absorbed into children's teeth from the local environment: those levels are fixed when permanent teeth mineralize, between ages 5 and 13. Measuring strontium levels in human teeth can help identify the characteristics of the environment where the person grew up.

    The strontium analysis of the LBK sites indicated that men in the study were by and large born locally and women for the most part born outside the study area. That's a common pattern noted in kinship studies of Neolithic (and other) communities, called patrilocality: local men went outside the community to find wives and brought them back to live with them. A total of 62 individual males were buried with adzes, and those individuals were all born locally. That, say scholars, may reflect a social differentiation: men with inherited wealth tended to live where they were born.


    Bentley RA, Bickle P, Fibiger L, Nowell GM, Dale CW, Hedges REM, Hamilton J, Wahl J, Francken M, Grupe G et al. 2012. Community differentiation and kinship among Europe’s first farmers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early edition.

    Buvit I, and Terry K. 2011. The twilight of Paleolithic Siberia: Humans and their environments east of Lake Baikal at the late-glacial/Holocene transition. Quaternary International 242(2):379-400.

    Buvit I, Terry K, Kolosov VK, and Konstantinov MV. 2011. The alluvial history and sedimentary record of the Priiskovoe site and its place in the Paleolithic prehistory of Siberia. Geoarchaeology 26(5):616-648.

    Hou Y-M, and Zhao L-X. 2010. New Archeological Evidence for the Earliest Hominin Presence in China. In: Fleagle JG, Shea JJ, Grine FE, Baden AL, and Leakey RE, editors.

    Out of Africa I: The First Human Colonization of Eurasia: Springer Netherlands. p 87-95.

    Yamaoka T. 2012. Use and maintenance of trapezoids in the initial Early Upper Paleolithic of the Japanese Islands. Quaternary International 248(0):32-42.