Bonetool Archives 2014

December 2014

 bta 2014 12 idol malagon

This anthropomorphic idol was found in Middle Copper Age (2800-2700 BC) contexts at El Malagon (Cúllar, Granada, Spain). It was carved from elephant ivory. The idol was found inside a dwelling and has a very worn, much handled surface, possibly used through multiple generations.

Manuel Altamirano

November 2014


This is a story of a little solved riddle. About a year ago Marloes Rijkelijkehuizen sent a request to the bonetool-mailing list concerning a „probably post-medieval cylindrical object of a large mammal metapodial,  excavated at a monastery site at the city of Dordrecht, the Netherlands“ (foto below left). The function of the object was unknow, but an assumption was that it might be a ‚flea catcher‘, an object stuffed with blood soaked cotton incorporated in 17th and 18th century headdresses (see Nieuwenburg-Bron n.D., 68).

Another option was suggested by Sonia O’Connor:
„These are containers for tape measures and their common features include a slot in the side where the textile tape is pulled out and a bone rod through the centre of the top to act as an axle and handle to re-wind the tape into the container. Some objects are more decorative than others and I have images of them in bone, elephant ivory and vegetable ivory. Bone is probably the most common material for these. The one in my picture (below right) is 19th century and has lost its tape.“

 bta 2014 11 dordrecht  bta 2014 11 tape measure uk
Courtesy: Regional Archives Dordrecht.
Curtesy Rosemary Payne;
Foto: Sonia O’Connor
Coincidence had it that I bought a peculiar item a few weeks before at a flee market in Bremen, Germany (foto below top left). I had no idea of its function, it simply looked cute. Re-examination after Sonias suggestion revealed that it  posessed exactly the features described above. Together with conservator Gütha Klonk I then dared to open the box and guess what we found! The tape measure has a metric scale and thus must be younger than 1793, when the metric system was first introduced in France. It is probably 19th century as well. The foto below bottom right shows the state after restoration with the tape back in function.
Christian Küchelmann
 bta 2014 11 measure bremen1  bta 2014 11 measure bremen2
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Fotos: Christian Küchelmann (top left), Tanja Töbe (top right, bottom left), Jennifer Wulf (bottom right).
In April 2016 the collection of tape measures was supplemented by Rosemary Payne by three items from the UK:
Below top is a simple tape measure technically like the ones above. Below bottom are two needlework tools which posess a similar type of decoration like the Bremen one. The one on the left contains a thimble, the one on the right is a netting tool holder bearing exactly the same pattern than the item from Bremen. All objects are probably early 19th century. The similarity of the decorative patterns raises the question if they may have been manufactured at the same workshop.
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Fotos: Rosemary Payne
Nieuwenburg-Bron, Ans (no date): Gegevens over beenbewerking, Hilversum

October 2014

A baby pacifier of bone found in Jaffa, Israel. The dating is  beginning of the 20th century, either end of Ottoman period or beginning of British mandate times. While the ring here appears to be made from bone, such pacifiers were often made from ivory. The rubber parts are missing. Several of the bone disks held loosely together act as a rattle (as noted by Sonia O’Connor). The item may be a European import e.g from Britain.

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bta 2014 10 pacifier jaffa 2

bta 2014 10 pacifier jaffa 3

Courtesy: Israel Antiquities Authority, Jaffa, Post Compound; excavator and photographer: Lior Rauchberger.
The comparative item below has been found in in an 18th century context in Nijmegen, Netherlands (excavation Grootestraat / Vleeshouwerstraat) and is published in van Vilsteren (1987, 53, fig. 88). It is made also of bone although it is wrongly described as of ivory in the publication.
 bta 2014 10 pacifier nl
van Vilsteren, Vincent T. (1987): Het Benen Tijdperk – Gebruiksvoorwerpen van been, gewei, hoorn en ivoor 10.000 jaar geleden tot heden, Assen

September 2014

 bta 2014 09 argentina

As this is the month of the International Council for Archaeozoology (ICAZ) conference in San Rafael, Argentina, where a joint session of the WBRG and the Archaeomalacology Working Group (AMWG) is dedicated to bone and shell tools, we chose an Argentinian artefact for this months bone tool. The artefact is a bone comb found in Santa Rosa de Tastil (Salta) and belongs to the Museo de Antropología de Salta collection (Salta, Argentina). The decoration outlined on the artifact is also found in rock art sites and known as „escutiforme“ (shield-like) related with the period known as Desarrollos Regionales (Regional Developments). It is dated between 900 and 1500 AD.

Vivian Scheinsohn

Podestá, Mercedes / Rolandi, Diana / Santoni, Mirta / Re, Anahí / Falchi, María Pia / Torres, Marcelo / Romero, Guadalupe (2013): Poder y Prestigio en los Andes Centro-Sur. Una visión a través de las pinturas de escutiformes en Guachipas (Noroeste argentino). – Boletín del Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino 18(2), 63-68

August 2014

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As this is the month of the 10th meeting of the WBRG in Belgrade this months bonetools shall be some beautifully decorated early Byzantine objects from Caričin Grad, Serbia. They can be dated very precisely in the period of emperor Justinian I (AD 527-565). These mysterious objects are made of antler tines and were interpreted preliminarily as possibly handles (with a big question mark). If anybody has any suggestions Nemanja Marković would be glad for a comment.
Petković, Sofija (1995): Rimski predmeti od kosti i roga sa teritorije Gornje Mezije (The Roman items of bone and antler from the territory of Upper Moesia), Beograd

July 2014

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Four very thin and large bone points found together in the inner pit ring of the Early Neolithic Linear Pottery Culture earthwork at the site of Herxheim in 2008. The length of the points is 149-222 mm with a thickness of only 2-3 mm. The picture below shows the find situation in the field. The points, possibly hair or clothing pins, were made from long bones of red deer or domestic cattle.
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Photos: Fabian Haack. GDKE Rheinland-Pfalz, Landesarchäologie, Außenstelle Speyer
Haack, Fabian (2013): Ein Beutel voller Knochennadeln. Produktion und Deponierung von außergewöhnlichen Knochenspitzen aus der linienbandkeramischen Siedlung von Herxheim. in: Zeeb-Lanz, A. & Stupperich, R. (eds.): Palatinus Illustrandus. Festschrift für Helmut Bernhard zum 65. Geburtstag, 47-51, Wiesbaden


June 2014

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Foto: Küchelmann
Seam rubber from New Zealand
Seam rubbers were used by sailors for working sailcloth and other textiles. They were often manufactured by whalers during whaling voyages. The specimen above is made from spermwhale ivory and most probably of 19th century origin. It is from a private collection in New Zealand. For more seamrubbers of various designs out of the collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum see Frank (2012, 166-167), for a description of their use see Garrett-Smith (1990, 87, 90).

Frank, Stuart M. (2012): Ingenious Contrivances, Curiously Carved. Scrimshaw in the New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford
Garrett-Smith, H. (1990): The Art of the Sailor: Knotting, Splicing and Ropework, New York

May 2014

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Gamsen-Waldmatte, Valais, Switzerland
Tongeren, Belgium
Iron age finds from Switzerland
The toothed ribs on the left have been found at the site Gamsen-Waldmatte (Valais, Switzerland), an alpine settlement of the Iron Age, situated at the foot of the mountain Glishorn. The settlement is located close to very important transalpine routes (Simplon, Albrun).
Altogether there are seventeen of these toothed ribs among the bone tools of Gamsen-Waldmatte. Only one rib is toothed double-sided. The teeth are always blunt and remarkably rounded, which possibly indicates the use of the ribs in connection to rather soft material. The incisions, which form the teeth sometimes go deep, but also at times stay very superficial, so that the teeth are hardly visible.Roman period finds from Tongeren, Belgium
Two toothed objects have been found at excavations in Tongeren, Belgium. Both are dated to the third century AD. One is made of the processus spinosus of a large mammal vertebra. The length of the object is circa 15 cm, the greatest width 3,3 cm. At one end blunt teeth were made. The other end seems to have functioned as a handle. A fragment of a second toothed object has been found at the same site. In the Netherlands toothed ribs have been found from the Frisian terp-mounds (Roes 1963), their function is still unknown.Several flat bone tools with blunt teeth have been found at different sites in Europe. The function of these objects remains unknown, although there are several ideas regarding their purpose: As scraper or burnisher for structuring / decorating soft material, as comb in textile working, as knife for removing the scales of a fish, as tool for the sharpening of knives, as ruler or measuring tool, as musical instrument, as a scraper to deflesh skins, etc. It would be interesting to test these assumptions in archaeological experiments. Unfortunately, no use wear analysis could be done just yet. We would be grateful for comments or ideas about the function or comparative finds.Corina Caravatti & Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen

Roes, Anna (1963): Bone and antler objects from the Frisian terp-mounds, Haarlem

April 2014

Rather rough tools.

The antler object shown below was sent to the Bonetool Mailing List by David Constantine in December 2013 with a request for similar artefacts or suggestions regarding its purpose. It was found on a coastal site in Scotland and is dated sometime from the Late Iron Age through to Late Norse. It appears unfinished (or least rather rough) and the end of the hook has a drilled out hole (possibly for a metal spike though there is no staining). As can be seen from the pen in the photo, the hook is quite large (about 200mm long) and certainly bigger than a “normal” fishing hook. David would still be grateful for comments.

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Subsequent suggestions brought two examples of simple hooks for bags or clothes from opposite areas of the world:

On the left is an elk (Cervus elaphus) hook found in a well at James Fort, Virginia, USA, that had been backfilled in the spring of 1610. James Fort was constructed by the English shortly after their arrival in Virginia. In May 1607, they established their colony (England’s first transatlantic colony) on the banks of the James River, which is a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. This is the third elk artifact found although it is not known if elk were present in Tidewater Virginia in the early 17th century or if the elk objects reached Jamestown by way of the Indian trade. The hook is a shed antler consisting of two branches. The back has been shaved flat, so it could be attached to a wall or post. Two large holes were drilled into the upright branch and one nail is still in situ. The other branch is at a 45 degree angle to be used as a suspension hook. Length 245 mm. Contribution by Beverly A. Straube.

On the right is an actual antler hook as it has been used by Mongolians in their ger (tent) until the end of the 20th century. It is made from red deer (Cervus elaphus) antler with just a hole to fix a thong made in leather. Contribution by Denis Ramseyer.

 bta 2014 04 hook fort james  bta 2014 04 hook mongolia

March 2014

The two decorative bone plates above have been found at Conisbrough Castle, a 12th centrury fortress in South Yorkshire, England. The thin section flat pieces are shaped with a hook at one end, a narrowing at the centre and have a drilled fastening hole at the opposite end. They are decorated on one side only at their border with a line of fine drilled dots. They are left and right side of a symmetrical pair. There is unfortunately no proper context information for the finds, which means that they could be anything from medieval until as late as 19th century, when the site was an open romantic ruin for leisurely picnics. There are no clues of their function yet and curator Kevin Booth would be grateful for any comments.
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Photos: Kevin Booth, English Heritage.

February 2014

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Photos: Ariel Shatil.

The images above show cattle metapodials found in dumps of the 3rd-2nd centuries BC in Jerusalem. They seem to be the refuse from the first stages of manufacture of bone objects. There are two interesting phenomena here:
First, it seems the artists shaved the complete bone before removing the epiphyses. Maybe it was done in order to reduce the volume of the bone before carving. We hardly have any items from more advanced stages of manufacture or complete items associated with these finds, so we have no clear idea as to why this volume reduction was needed.
Second, the sawed off epiphyses show evidence for rotation of the bone while sawing. The saw marks reveal that the saws used were rather rough and thick. Again we don’t know if the reason for turning was technological or other. It is possible that the saws were not strong enough and the artists had to make sure they will not break if cutting too deep into the bone cortex. Another suggestion is that after the bone volume was reduced, the bone was more fragile and had to be turned in order to keep it from breaking or splitting. Any idea or suggestion on these topics will be welcomed.

Ariel Shatil

January 2014

 bta 2014 01 rinkelbel
Photo: Jörg Ansorge
The objects above are parts of toys for small children, a combination of a flute and a rattle called „Rasselflöte“ in German or „rinkelbel“ in Dutch. They have been excavated by Dr. Jörg Ansorge (Landesamt für Kultur und Denkmalpflege Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Abteilung Archäologie) in Stralsund, Germany. The finds from the feature are from the middle of the 18th century.

Ansorge, Jörg (2011): Kurze Fundberichte Mittelalter/Neuzeit. Hansestadt Stralsund, Fpl. 303. – Jahrbuch Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 58, 436-444  [Abb. 224.1-3].
Ansorge, Jörg (2011): Bericht zur archäologischen Untersuchung Hansestadt Stralsund Parkhaus Fährwall, Fpl. 303, Schwerin [page 29-31, Abb. 22.8-12]
Ansorge, Jörg (2013): Archäologische Untersuchungen auf der ehemaligen Fährbastion in Stralsund. – Jahrbuch Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 60

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