Bonetool of the Month Archives

October 2023

Part of the conference of the ICAZ Fish Remains Working Group (FRWG) was an excursion to the Museum Carnuntinum, displaying the excavation of Carnuntum, a Roman town at the Limes alongside the Danube in Austria, now a world heritage site. Carnuntum was inhabited from the 1st to the 4th century AD and became the capital of the province Pannonia Superior, housing circa 50.000 residents. Among many other objects made of bone on display in the museum is the push key shown below. Push keys for Roman locks were usually made of iron, this decorated bone specimen is an extraordinary example.

Hans Christian Küchelmann

September 2023

Three artefacts (two awls and a circle dot-decorated bone plaque) carved from avian bones came to light from the 9th–11th century AD layers of the Romano-Byzantine fortress of Capidava (Topalu, Constanţa county, Romania) during the excavations conducted by Radu Florescu in 1957.

One of the awls was made from the left distal ulna of a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos Linnaeus, 1758). Its total length is 103.3 mm, the width of the diaphysis is 10,4 mm, and the greatest width of the epiphysis is 19,4 mm, while the greatest thickness is 18,2 mm. The greatest length of the used edge (point) is 15,5 mm, while the thickness of the wall is 1,5 mm (Fig. 1).

The other awl was made from the right distal tibiotarsus of a crane (Grus grus Linnaeus, 1758). Its total length is 83,3 mm. The width of the diaphysis is approximately 12,0 mm, the width of the epiphysis is 22,1 mm, and the thickness of the epiphysis is 20,7 mm. The greatest length of the used edge is 14.0 mm, while the thickness of the wall is 1,6 mm. The tip of the distal tibiotarsus is broken (Fig. 2). Both points appear quite used and seem to having been curated.

The bone plaque was carved from the diaphysis of an ulna from a (white) pelican (Pelecanus cf. onocrotalus). The straight cut at one of the ends on the fragmented object and the remains of the seven circle-dot decorations displayed in a line indicate that a fine rectangular plate was cut out from the large but rather thin-walled wing element of the fowl. The length of find is 72,5 mm and the thickness of the wall is 1,1 mm. The diameters of circle dots are 5,8 mm in the exterior and 2 mm in the interior. The distances between the openings range from 7,9 to 9,0 mm (Fig. 3).

Located on the right bank of the river Danube in the Romanian lowland, Capidava was a place where both aquatic and steppe species must have been easy to catch. The golden eagle may also have been caught in a wide meadow, or in a broad forest as this species nests either on cliffs or on high trees.
Erika Gál

Fig. 1: Awl made from the ulna of a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).
Fig. 2: Awl made from the tibiotarsus of a crane (Grus grus).
Fig. 3: Circle dot decorated bone plaque made from the ulna of a white pelican (Pelecanus cf. onocrotalus).
Gál, Erika (2005): New data on bird bone artefacts from Hungary and Romania. in: Luik, Heidi / Choyke, Alice M. / Batey, Colleen / Lougas, Lembi (eds.): From Hooves to Horns, from Mollusc to Mammoth – Manufacture and Use of Bone Artefacts from Prehistoric Times to the Present – Proceedings of the 4th Meeting of the ICAZ Worked Bone Research Group at Tallinn, 26th–31st of August 2003, Muinasaja teadus 15, 325-338, Tallinn

August 2023

The bone artifacts below come from unit III4 at the Santa Elina rock shelter, central Brazil, dated to ~27,000-25,000 years ago. In this unit, material culture (including stone tools, painted blocks, and hematites) from pre-Last Glacial Maximum human occupations is associated with giant sloth bones (Glossotherium), including thousands of well-preserved osteoderms, of which three were human-modified (perforated, polished, and worn due to use). Santa Elina presents successive human occupations from the Last Glacial Maximum to the early Holocene, and contributes to the debate of the early peopling of the Americas, as well as with the human-megafauna relationship in South America during the Pleistocene.

Raw material: giant sloth (Glossotherium) bones (osteoderms).
Location: Santa Elina rock shelter, central Brazil, South America.
Bone artifact: probably body ornaments (pendants?).
Thaís R. Pansani

Pansani, Thaís R. / Pobiner, Briana / Pobiner, Pierre / Thoury, Mathieu / Tafforeau, Paul / Baranger, Emmanuel / Vialou, Águeda V. / Vialou, Denis / McSparron, Cormac / de Castro, Mariela C. / Dantas, Mário A. T. / Bertrand, Loïc / Pacheco, Mírian L. A. F. (2023): Evidence of artefacts made of giant sloth bones in central Brazil around the last glacial maximum. – Proceedings of the Royal Society B 290

• The research will be presented this month at the 14th ICAZ conference in Cairns, Australia:
Human Modification of Giant Sloth Bones in Brazil: Deep-Investigation of Artifacts from the Last Glacial Maximum

July 2023

Ostrich Eggshell Discs

Since the Stone Age humans have made beads from ostrich (Struthio camelus) eggshell in many parts of Africa. Numerous disc shaped beads have been made of this raw material since it was readily available in large parts of the continent. The discs were assembled into necklaces, bracelets, hair ribbons and other jewelry and were then worn on all suitable body parts. The manufacture of the discs was complex and the waste due to the fragility of the raw material was comparatively high (Klusmeier 2016). Noteworthy is also that grave goods from all over the Sahara prove that children as well as adults of both sexes were dressed with ostrich eggshell beads (Klenkler 2003, 27, 185).

The finds shown below are all stray finds collected from the surface. The figures show beads in different stages of manufacture. Frequently, like here, the discs are found on Neolithic campgrounds. Other artefacts collected at both sites show that ceramic sherds, silex tools and flakes as well as discs made of fossil Crinoid stems have been assembled to necklaces together with ostrich eggshell beads.

The sites are both located in Lybia in the large sand sea of the Erg Ubari. The ones in fig. 1 have been found 26.1.1999 (geo-coordinates N 27° 35,245′, O 10° 52,621′), the ones in fig. 2 on the  21.10.1999 (geo-coordinates N 27° 34,567′, O 11° 08,017′).

The exceptionally small bead on top of fig. 1 has a diameter of 5 mm and a hole of 2,5 mm diameter. The round bead in the middle of fig. 2 shows the more common size of the beads with a diameter of 10 mm and a hole of 3,4 mm.

Fig. 1: Erg Ubari 01/1999; Fig. 2: Erg Ubari 10/1999
Small Plate of Ostrich Eggshell

This single surface find below has intentionally been manufactured from ostrich eggshell. It is an axially symmetric pentagon, the edges of which have been evenly and carefully tapered in an angle of approximately 45°. The artefact is 34 mm high and 26 mm broad. It has been foun on the 4.11.2001 in the Algerian Sahara in the Tassili n`adjjer close to the Tin Taradjeli Pass (geo-coordinates N 25° 11,318′, O 08° 26,462′).

Function and dating of the artefact are unknown. Klenkler (2003, 132, 167) describes similar pieces, which are less carefully tapered, but has no explanation for their function either. He believes them to be Neolithic.

Burkhard Weishäupl

Klenkler, C. E. (2003): Prähistorische Artefakte, Band 2, Geneve
Klusmeier, Fritz (2016): Waren die südafrikanischen Perlen aus Straußeneierschalen (Buschmannperlen) Geld?. – Primitivgeld-Sammler 37(1), 5-18

June 2023

The bone artefact pictured here was found associated with a Beaker date (c. 2450 – c. 1800 BC) inhumation at Lyminge in Kent. The burial was placed at the Tayne field, which lies beside the source of the Nailbourne stream, which extends north through the East Kent downlands and joins the little Stour near Canterbury. The site also features a Middle Bronze Age barrow with numerous cremations and two single metal object deposits and an Anglo-Saxon settlement.

The bone artefact is likely a class 1 ‘magnifying glass’ type belt-ring (Hunter & Woodward 2015, 59). It is 48.6 mm by 32.3 mm, which fits within the size range of other recorded examples (Hunter & Woodward 2015, 59). The material is bone, most likely from the shaft of a long bone from either cattle or deer (Hunter & Woodward 2015, 56). In Britain examples of belt-rings are also made of shale and jet. The most obvious example being the shale belt-ring which was part of the collection of artefacts found in the grave of the Amesbury archer, in Southern England (Bradley et al. 2016, 145).

The item’s exact position within the grave was not recorded but the positioning of these items in relation to the body is variable in the archaeological record, with these objects found by the upper leg, waist, at the chest and the feet (Hunter & Woodward 2015, 512). Whilst belt-rings are more common in male graves, in particular in East Yorkshire (Hunter & Woodward 2015, 519), they are also associated with female graves elsewhere, as is the case at Lyminge. The use of the Lyminge belt-ring for funerary purposes may suggest that “they were valuable and much used items, which probably functioned as inherited ancestral property through more than one generation”(Hunter & Woodward 2015, 68).

Use wear patterns for belt-rings have been analysed by Hunter and Woodward (2015, 65, 504) who have shown that in some cases patterns suggest use as a belt-fastening but in others the patterns could suggest use as a decorative hanging for garments or possibly a bow stringer, however this needs confirmation. The example from Lyminge has not been analysed for wear patterns but it was likely highly polished (Clifford 2023) as were other examples from the period (Hunter & Woodward 2015, 64).

The key object association for belt-rings during the beaker period is with beaker pottery as is the case at Lyminge. Other examples found across Britain have been associated with other items such as bracers, daggers, v-perforated buttons, barbed and tanged arrow heads, and fire kits (Hunter & Woodward 2015, 530).

Belt-rings vary in style across Britain with most varieties found in East Yorkshire (Hunter & Woodward 2015, 524). The style of the Lyminge belt-ring appears to be fairly unique, with only one similar example found in Britain (that I could locate), which was also found in Kent at Sittingbourne (see Hunter & Woodward 2015, 60). According to Clarke the Class 1 style has close links to Europe and possibly more specifically the Middle Rhineland (Clarke 1970: 262–63; Hunter & Woodward 2015: 59). Overall, the Lyminge belt-ring seems to fit the patterns seen in the archaeological record in Britain but the unique style of this example highlights links to the continent, which was an important part of life during the Bronze Age.
Carina Garland

• Bradley, Richard (2016): Barrow Landscapes Across the Channel (2500–1600 BC). in: Bradley, Richard / Haselgrove, Colin / Vander Linden, Marc / Webley, Leo (eds): The Later Prehistory of North-West Europe, 126-170, Oxford, 126-170
• Clarke, D. L. (1970): Beaker Pottery of Great Britain and Ireland, Cambridge
• Clifford, Trista (2023): Lyminge object visual assessment, Archaeology South East, 14/02/23, London
• Hunter, J. & Woodward, A. (2015): Ritual in Early Bronze Age Grave Goods: An examination of ritual and dress equipment from Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age graves in England, Oxford

May 2023

A remarkable bone tool was excavated in 2020 in Heiloo, The Netherlands (fig. 1) (Brattinga 2023; Brattinga & Knippenberg 2023). In the Bronze Age the site location was part of the Dutch coastal area in the northwestern part of the country. During the excavation a Bronze Age settlement and adjacent agricultural fields from that period were uncovered. The tool was found on the bottom of a large pit. It is made of a large bone with asymmetrical adze-like ends and a central shaft hole. A part of the oak (Quercus) shaft and a small willow (Salix) peg were still inside the shaft hole. Radiocarbon dates of the wooden shaft and botanical remains from of the pit indicate the tool was made in the Middle Bronze Age, around 1500 BC.

Fig. 1: A bone tool from Heiloo, the Netherlands. It is shafted with a wooden shaft and fixed with a small wooden peg.

The artefact has a size of 33 x 6 x 3,5 cm (fig. 2). The upper part of the object has a smooth and shiny surface. The other side has an irregular texture with traces of the original spongy structure of the bone. The surface of the object shows elaborate use wear traces. Micro-wear analysis has brought to light more specific use wear traces (Verbaas 2022). The original animal bone was split and worked by cutting and chopping and the surface was ground (fig. 3). How the adze-like ends were brought into shape could no longer be seen because the production traces were removed during the shaping of the object by grinding it with a stone. The square shaft hole was cut out with a stone or metal chisel. The inside shape of the hole causes the shaft to be fixed with a 50 degree angle. The hole contains clear wear traces that were caused by the wooden shaft pressing on the surface of the bone during the use of the object. The wooden shaft itself also shows traces of contact with the bone caused by pressure. Moreover, clear traces of an organic wrapping for fastening the tool to the shaft were identified on the surface of the artefact.

Unfortunately, the micro-wear traces on the working edges of the object are less clear although still present on specific locations (fig 4). Parts of the working edges are damaged making it more difficult to investigate the micro-wear traces. The traces that could be found are greasy and shiny. The edges of the bone structure on those locations are rounded and very small scratches can be seen. This indicates contact with plant material. Because of the rounded edges it is clear the artefact is not used for chopping unlike bone and antler axes that are known from the same period. Chopping causes other micro-wear traces. It is more plausible the object was used for processing plant or fiber materials. Despite the fact that it is not exactly known for which purpose the object was used for, it is clear that is was used for a long time before it ended in the pit.

Small samples from the surface of the bone were investigated with ZooMS by the University of York and the MPI Leipzig. The results point out the object is made of whale bone: the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) or bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) (Dekker et al. 2023). Whale and cetacean bone is quite common in Bronze Age archaeological context in the Dutch Coastal zone (Brattinga 2023; Kleijne 2015). Nevertheless it is unusual that a tool is made out of whale bone. For now it is the only whale bone tool known from this period in The Netherlands. Moreover, there are no archaeological parallels for a tool with a similar shape. Compared with other archaeological finds the object from Heiloo is most similar to early Medieval bone and antler clamps from Dublin and Iceland. However, the wooden shaft, the length of the tool and the micro-wear traces do not indicate the Heiloo specimen to be a clamp. Any suggestions or parallels are very welcome!

Joris Brattinga

Fig 2: Drawing of the bone tool and position of the wooden shaft and peg (drawing by R. Timmermans).
Fig 3: Left: traces of grinding on the surface of the object. Right: traces caused by a chisel for making the shaft hole.
Fig 4: Microwear traces on the working edge of the object. They are interpreted as caused by the use of the tool for processing plant material.
•  Radiocarbon dates: Poz-125900, 3230 ± 30 BP (1541-1425 cal BC) and Poz-156692, 3290 ± 35 BP (1631-1456 cal BC); OxCal4.4.4, INTCAL20.
• A big thanks to M. Rijkelijkhuizen, I. Riddler and H.C. Küchelmann for suggestions of comparative items.
• Brattinga, Joris J. (2023): Opgraving Heiloo – Zuiderloo; Deelplan 3 & Middenduin Bewoningsresten uit de bronstijd en sporen uit de Romeinse tijd tot en met de Nieuwe tijd op de oostelijke flank van de strandwal in Heiloo, gemeente Heiloo, Archol rapport, 715, Leiden
• Brattinga, Joris J. & Knippenberg, S. (2023): Bijzondere vondsten uit de midden-bronstijd in Heiloo-Zuiderloo, Metaaltijdenbundel 10, Leiden
• Dekker, J. / Mylopotamitaki, D. / Welker, F. (2023): Megafauna Mystery. A report on the palaeoproteomic taxonomic identification of a bone tool from Bonze Age Heiloo, unpublished report University of Copenhagen
• Kleijne, J. P. (2015): Kennemerland in de Bronstijd, Provinciale Archeologische Rapporten 2, Haarlem
• Verbaas, A. (2023): Gebruikssporenanalyse van een onbekend benen voorwerp van walvisbot gevonden te Heiloo Zuiderloo, LAB-rapport 91, Leiden

April 2023

Two folding knife handles were unearthed from the forum of Bagacum during the excavations of south wing of its cryptoporticus. The context of discovery is a dump layer dated to the 5th c AD.
Handle T-025 shaped into Hercule’s Club shows with a clear wear shine of its surface linked to an extended period of use and part of the broken blade still set in the bone (top). Handle T-024 was on the contrary not finished and was never fitted with a blade at the time of abandonment suggesting a local manufacture (bottom). The discovery of other production waste of this type of handle in the city supports this hypothesis.
The handles were fashioned from sections of cortical bone that were turned and sawn. The compactness of the raw material, the size and the appearance of long bone type trabecular bone on the proximal region of the T-024 handle (bottom) constitute the arguments allowing the attribution of the raw material to bone thus excluding ivory and antler. Furthermore, the maximum diameters of the handles of 17.8 and 18.7 mm restrict the possible raw material to the proximal part of a cattle or horse radius. If we take into account the bone material removed by turning to obtain the desired shape, we expect the use of bones derived from very large individuals. This led us to conducting measurements of bone thickness from local contemporary butchery waste and from other regional sites transforming large improved Roman morphotypes. The lower values obtained put in doubt the use of local domestic resources and we considered the import of raw materials (dromedary, elephant, etc).
The proteomics laboratory of the University of Lille (MSAP, UAR 3290 CNRS) performed ZooMS identification by MALDI FTICR mass spectrometry for both handles and identified the genus Bos sp. This analysis excluded the use of horse and of a raw material imported from Mediterranean provinces. Some amino acid mutations on the collagen protein known only in Aurochs (Bos primigenius) more specifically indicate the use of wild bovids as raw material. In the case of the locally produced handle T-024, this suggests that Aurochs was still present in the region or that the raw material was imported, as local finds of wild bovids are exceptional in Roman times.
Tarek Oueslati

Herbin, Patrrice / de Chavagnac, Laure / Oueslati, Tarek (2020): Canifs et peignes en matières dures animales: note sur des exemplaires provenant d’un remblai tardif de l’aile sud du cryptoportique du forum de Bavay (Nord). – Bulletin de la Commission historique du département du Nord 59, 17-35
• Sarrazin, Olivier (2022): Le mystère des canifs romains, film by

March 2023

We recovered this special artifact at the Afanasievo habitation site Nizhnyaya Sooru (3100 – 2900 BCE), located in the Altai Republic (Russia) in September 2021. Embedded in an occupational layer together with large quantities of faunal remains, ceramics and other artifacts it immediately struck our attention. This posterior cattle (Bos sp.) mandible, including the second and third molars still set in the tooth socket, was heavily used. Both the buccal and the lingual side of the mandibular bone were extremely polished. The posterior and most impressively, the occlusal surface of both the tooth and the interior bone structure were heavily worn down. The little indention on the posterior side indicates there might have been some sort of bracket or fixture. It likely fell out of use after breaking in two and was discarded (both pieces were found circa three meters from one another). However, we are still searching for comparative examples that could tell us more about what this artifact was used for. The absence of striations or pitting might indicate a very prolonged usage on soft materials (skins, leather, clay?). We found an example of ‚mandible smoothers‘ from the Jászdózsa-Kápolnahalom tell in Hungary (Choyke et al. 2005) but would be pleased about further suggestions.
Sarah Pleuger & Taylor Hermes (National Geographic Society NGS-67706R-20)

Rise of Altai Mountain Pastoralism Project (AMPP)
Choyke, Alice M. (2005): Bronze Age bone and antler working at the Jászdósza–Kápolnahalom tell. in: Luik, Heidi / Choyke, Alice M. / Batey, Colleen / Lougas, Lembi (eds.): From Hooves to Horns, from Mollusc to Mammoth – Manufacture and Use of Bone Artefacts from Prehistoric Times to the Present – Proceedings of the 4th Meeting of the ICAZ Worked Bone Research Group at Tallinn, 26th–31st of August 2003, Muinasaja teadus 15, 129-156, Tallinn
• Hermes, Taylor R. et al. (2021): Nizhnyaya Sooru Settlement in Central Altai: Some outcomes of the study and prospects for further research. – Теория и практика археологических исследований 33/3, 125-141
• Hermes, Taylor R., Shnaider, S. V., Semibratov, V. P., Kungurov, A. L., & Tishkin, A. A. (2021): Revisiting the emergence of pastoralism in the Altai Mountains through interactions between local hunter-gatherer and Afanasievo communities. – Archaeological Research in Asia 26, 100281Hermes, Taylor R., Shnaider, S. V., Semibratov, V. P., Kungurov, A. L., & Tishkin, A. A. (2021): Revisiting the emergence of pastoralism in the Altai Mountains through interactions between local hunter-gatherer and Afanasievo communities. – Archaeological Research in Asia 26, 100281

February 2023

The antler artifact shown below was found in the 14th century kitchen midden of the archbishopric palace at Esztergom in Northern Hungary. It is one of the few arrow bolt planes known from medieval Europe. This rarely documented type of tool was used together with a knife for smoothing the wooden bolts of (cross)bows. Made either from bone or antler (or wood), the production and use of planes included the next steps:
1) a 70–90 mm long plate was carved out, smoothened (and sometimes also rounded at the ends);
2) usually two or three (but sometimes up to five) slot-like openings were cut across the surface;
3) a narrow knife was placed in one of the openings and moved along the wooden bolts – either from the middle towards both ends or whittling from one end to the other – for smoothing the shaft.
In this Hungarian video about archery traditions the speaker Marx Tibor shows how such an arrow bolt plane works (go to minute 3:39).
Erika Gál

Gál, Erika (2022): The arrow bolt plane from the medieval archepiscopal residence at Esztergom (North Hungary). – Quaternary International
Garstka, Anna Maria & Ginter, Artur (2020): Antler bolt shaft plane -a rare tool from the stronghold in Muszyn. – Fasciculi Archaeologiae Historicae 33, 71-78
Svecová, Renáta Prichystalová (2002): Dva netypické parohov`predmety z Pohanska [Two uncommon antler artifacts from Pohansko]. – Sborník prací filozofické fakulty brnenské univerzity, rada M archeologická M 7, 83-92

January 2023

The shell artefact shown below has been found on a flee market in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
This piece is a preform of an Amerindian Precolumbian tool produced on the flaring lip of a queen conch shell (Aliger gigas). It is present almost on every single Precolumbian site throughout the Precolumbian time sequence in the Greater and Lesser Antilles. This preform will be further shaped by adding a cutting edge on the distal end (the wider one on the left on the first picture) through abrasion. The proximal end (right end on the 1st picture) is a butt, obtained through percussion, which was likely hafted. These tools are supposed to be adzes with probable various functions such as working earth, wood, etc. It was possibly made by the Tainos, but could also be more ancient since the characteristics of these tools barely changed though time.
Nathalie Serrand & Burkhard Weishäupl

Bonetool of the Month Archives