1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Celt (tool)

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18599951911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 5 — Celt (tool)

CELT, a word in common use among British and French archaeologists to describe the hatchets, adzes or chisels of chipped or shaped stone used by primitive man. The word is variously derived from the Welsh cellt, a flintstone (that being the material of which the weapons are chiefly made, though celts of basalt felstone and jade are found); from being supposed to be the implement peculiar to the Celtic peoples; or from a Low Latin word celtis, a chisel. The last derivation is more probably correct. The word has come to be somewhat loosely applied to metal as well as stone axe-heads. The general form of stone celts is that of blades approaching an oval in section, with sides more or less straight and one end broader and sharper than the other. In length they vary from about 2 to as much as 16 in. The largest and finest specimens are found in Denmark: one in an English collection being of beautiful white flint 13 in. long, 11/2 in. thick and 31/2 in. broad. Those found in Denmark are sometimes polished, but usually are left rough. Those found in north-western Europe are ground to a more or less smooth surface. That some were held in the hand and others fixed in wooden handles is clear from the presence of peculiar polished spaces produced by the friction of the wood. In the later stone adzes holes are sometimes found pierced to receive the handles.

The bronze celts vary in size from an inch to a foot in length. The earlier specimens are much like the stone ones in shape and design, but the later manufactures show a marked improvement, the metal being usually pierced to receive the handles. It is noteworthy that the celtmakers never cast their axes with a transverse hole through which the handle might pass. Bronze celts are usually plain, but some are ornamented with ridges, dots or lines. That they were made in the countries where they are found is proved by the presence of moulds.

A point worthy of mention is the position which stone celts hold in the folk-lore and superstitious beliefs of many lands. In the West of England the country folks believe the weapons fell originally from the sky as “thunderbolts,” and that the water in which they are boiled is a specific for rheumatism. In the North and Scotland they are preservatives against cattle diseases. In Brittany a stone celt is thrown into a well to purify the water. In Sweden they are regarded as a protection against lightning. In Norway the belief is that, if they are genuine thunderbolts, a thread tied round them when placed on hot coals will not burn but will become moist. In Germany, Spain, Italy, the same beliefs prevail. In Japan the stones are accounted of medicinal value, while in Burma and Assam they are infallible specifics for ophthalmia. In Africa they are the weapons of the Thunder-God. In India and among the Greeks the hatchet appears to have had a sacred importance, derived, doubtless, from the universal superstitious awe with which these weapons of prehistoric man were regarded.

See Sir J. Evans’s Ancient Stone Implements of Great Britain; Lord Avebury’s Prehistoric Times (1865–1900) and Origin of Civilization (1870); E. B. Tylor’s Anthropology, and Primitive Culture, &c. For the history of polished stone axes up to the 17th century see Dr Marrel Bandouin and Lionel Bonnemère in the Bulletin de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris, April–May 1905.