5000-Year-Old Copper Axe from the Pile Dwelling "Zug-Riedmatt" Originates from Tuscany

A copper axe blade, found 2008 at the pile dwelling site of Zug-Riedmatt yields important insights. New research by the Department of Monument Conservation and Archaeology of Canton Zug and the University of Bern casts a new and surprising light on the processing of metals and their importance in Neolithic times. The blade’s form and raw material are nearly identical with the axe of the Tyrolean Iceman 'Ötzi' and other axe blades from Eneolithic graves in Lombardy and Tuscany. Contrary to past beliefs, the use of copper north of the Alps 5,000 years ago was fundamentally shaped by stimuli from the South.


The small unimpressive-looking axe blade was found in 2008 during the rescue excavation of Zug-Riedmatt. Today, the site is located 800 metres from the lake shore. The excellent preservation of the organic remains led to the inclusion of the site in the UNESCO World Heritage in 2011 (along with 110 more pile dwelling sites around the Alps). Moreover, the site is part of the Swiss National Science Foundation project 'Taphonomy and formation processes in waterlogged sediments'.


Some of its secrets have now finally been revealed by two scientific papers by Eda Gross, Gishan F. Schaeren, and Igor M. Villa (in German: Tugium 33, 2017; in English: Archäologische Informationen, 'Early View' of the German Society of Prehistory and Protohistory (DGUF): “The measurements of lead isotopes by Igor Villa of the Institute of Geological Sciences at the University of Bern confirmed our assumptions,” says Gishan Schaeren, head of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology at the Department of Monument Conservation and Archaeology of Canton Zug: The axe blade originates from southern Tuscany. The same rings true for the Iceman’s axe blade – as their congruent lead isotope ratios proved. This shared „fingerprint“ and their almost coinciding chemical analyses suggest that the blades stem from a similar context in regard to dating, place of origin, and technical tradition. All evidence points towards the ore-rich area near Campiglia Marittima and the Colline Metallifere in southern Tuscany.


It is likely that the axe blade of Zug-Riedmatt was deposited in the water as an offering more than 5,000 years ago. The blade is one of very few copper axe blades from Neolithic Europe that can be dated with certainty. Thus, the blade is an important puzzle piece for European archaeology. Moreover, it highlights the existence of a multitude of cultural connections with the South and the distribution networks for copper 5,000 years ago. This helps understand certain phenomena connected to the South, which up to now had seemed rather incoherent or had been underestimated.


Fig. 1: What the site of Zug-Riedmatt at the Lorze River Delta might have looked like more than 5,000 years ago (Eva Kläui/Eda Gross, ADA ZUG).

Fig. 2: The deposits of the lakeside dwelling, in which the blade was found in 2008 (arrow), were situated underneath fluviatile or limnic deposits of about 6 m thickness and were located about 800 m from today’s shoreline (Photograph: Rolf Glauser, ADA Zug).

Fig 3: The copper axe blade of Zug-Riedmatt is preserved in its entirety and has a length of only 6.5 cm (Photograph: Res Eichenberger, ADA Zug).

Fig. 4: Careful sampling of the blade’s copper (Photograph: Gishan Schaeren, ADA Zug).

Further informations:

Department of Monument Conservation and Archaeology of Canton Zug
Gishan Schaeren, Head of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology
Tel. +41 41 728 28 54
Diese E-Mail-Adresse ist vor Spambots geschützt! Zur Anzeige muss JavaScript eingeschaltet sein!


The copper axe blade of Zug-Riedmatt (Canton of Zug, Switzerland) – a key to chronology and metallurgy in the second half of the fourth millennium BC.
Eda Gross, Gishan Schaeren & Igor Maria Villa

Archäologische Informationen of the German Society of Prehistory and Protohistory (DGUF):


Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4