Why so many ancients made axes out of green stone

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach world history. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


A character in the short story I'm working on is a woodworker. Since he's working with Bronze Age technology and about to flee his homeland because the priests are exploiting his girlfriend, I figured he would want to take his tools with him. So then I had to figure out what kinds of tools he would probably have...

Fun Facts

Sewn wood

"Phoenician joints" are a variation on mortise-and-tenon (basically built-in wooden pegs) that were used by shipbuilders in the eastern Levant, but early ships in Egypt were "sewn" together with woven straps and fiber stuffing.

Wooden Joins

Woodworkers in ancient Germany, Egypt and China used mortise-and-tenon joints before nails became common. A man in China has revived the technique to create furniture that lasts much longer than glue-and-nail construction. The patterns are beautiful and effective, but one of the problems with using it in modern day China is apparently the timber shortage and the difficulty with mass producing the intricate cuts required.

Jade Tools

Māori used adze blades made from pounamu, a hard and durable green stone, even after the arrival of metal tools. They were manufactured by hand using sandstone and water. When they were no longer useful for carving wood, they were reworked into ornamental pendants; they're quite beautiful, and the notch to make it easier to haft on a wooden handle probably makes it easier to put on a necklace, too.

Imported Stone

Woodworkers in the Neolithic Levant also imported green stone tools, which were polished and only rarely used for actual carpentry. They appear to have been social and spiritual symbols associated with vegetation, rain, fertility, virility, and strength. It's worth noting, though, that deforestation is not a new phenomenon and the swings between "enough" trees and "not enough trees" for woodworking habits are visible in the archaeological record; adzes replaced axes as heavy woodworking tools for awhile in the early history of the Neolithic Levant, then the trend reversed as carpentry tools became more popular than tree-felling tools.

📗 If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy the tamarisk tree edition.

💚 If you learned something from this overview, consider forwarding it to a friend and encouraging them to sign up for more overviews of my research into obscure history and science.

🥔 Do you have a favorite story about woodworking or other ancient skills? Please reach out — I'd love to hear about it, either via email or in a comment where other readers can see.


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