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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Axe Head
Weapons and Ammunition
Work Type
3rd Millennium BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia, Syria, Northwestern Syria
Bronze Age, Early
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Arsenical copper
Cast, lost-wax process
11.4 x 3.9 x 0.5 cm (4 1/2 x 1 9/16 x 3/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Arsenical Copper:
Cu, 97.38; Sn, less than 0.25; Pb, less than 0.04; Zn, 0.008; Fe, 0.32; Ni, 0.08; Ag, 0.04; Sb, 0.12; As, 2.06; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, less than 0.01; Au, less than 0.02; Cd, less than 0.002
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is brown and black under very uneven green corrosion products on one side and large areas of green corrosion and tan burial deposits on the other. There have been very minor losses, and deformations to the sharpened edge are present. The axe head was cast and probably worked to shape the cutting edge. Tool marks for finishing are evident on the brown and black surface.

Carol Snow (submitted 2002)


Recorded Ownership History
Louise M. and George E. Bates, Camden, ME (by 1971-1992), gift; to the Harvard University Art Museums, 1992.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Louise M. and George E. Bates
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The two axe heads, 1992.256.132 and 1992.256.133, which are almost identical in form and almost certainly contemporary, represent an early form of unhafted axe blade that was widespread throughout the Aegean, Anatolia, and western Asia during the third millennium BCE (1). It is patterned after ground stone prototypes. These axes are cast. They taper from the corners of the cutting edge toward the rounded butt at the opposite end. Both axes have convexly curving cutting edges, with one face beveled down to the edge and squared-off, vertical sides. Both also have a dark brownish surface covered in some areas with a rough greenish gray. The surface of one axe (1992.256.133) is strangely pitted on one side. It is not clear whether this preserves the original metal surface, or if the pitting is part of the incrustation products that cover the original surface. The close similarity of these two objects suggests that they may have been part of a larger horde of such axes, perhaps used for barter or exchange. It is unclear whether these objects were meant to be used by themselves, or were inserted into the ends of wooden or bone handles. It is also unclear whether they were tools for cutting, shaving, or smoothing wood.


1. Axes generally similar in shape from the collections of the Royal Ontario Museum are published in J. W. Hayes, Ancient Metal Axes and Other Tools in the Royal Ontario Museum: European and Mediterranean Types (Toronto, 1991) 5-8, nos. 2-8. All seem to be third millennium BCE. The reported findspots of these objects range from eastern Europe to Cyprus.

David G. Mitten

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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