Bonetool Archives 2020

December 2020

Starčevo spoons
Bone spoons, i. e., artefacts in shape that closely resembles modern spoons, with separate bowl and elongated, narrow handle, are among the most interesting and most attractive Early Neolithic osseous artefacts. They were noted on numerous sites in Anatolia and south-eastern Europe, and are usually considered as part of the “Neolithic package”. They were produced from entire metapodial bone of large mammal, most often Bos taurus and Bos primigenius, through several stages. All these spoons were carefully manufactured, and large labour, skill and time investment in their production may be noted. Spoons were also used through a long period, and were often repaired. Their function is still a matter of discussion, but hypotheses include their use for cosmetic purposes, for applying pigments, etc. It is also possible that some spoons (or during certain period within their life span) had certain symbolic value. Several examples from Bulgaria and Anatolia even have zoomorphic decorations on their basal parts. Over hundreds of spoons were recovered thus far from Starčevo culture sites in present-day Serbia, and the richest assemblages are from the sites of Donja Branjevina and Starčevo-Grad in Vojvodina region. One semi-finished spoon from Donja Branjevina shows that they were produced locally, even though the spoons on this large territory have rather uniform technical traits.

Selena Vitezović

References on spoons in general:
Nandris, J. G. (1972): Bos primigenius and the bone spoon. – Bulletin of the Institute of Archaeology 10, 63-82
Nandris, J. G. & Camps-Fabrer, Henriette (1993): Fiche cuillers à base en V du FTN. in: Camps-Fabrer, Henriette (ed.): Éléments récepteurs, Fiches typologiques de l’industrie osseuse prehistorique, 153-162, Aix en Provence
Sidéra, Isabelle (2013): Manufacturing bone tools: The example of Kovačevo. in: Miladinović-Radmilović, N. & Vitezović, Selena (eds.): Bioarheologija na Balkanu. Bilans i perspektive. Radovi bioarheološke sekcije Srpskog arheološkog društva (Bioarchaeology in the Balkans. Balance and perspectives [Papers of the Bioarchaeological section of the Serbian Archaeological Society], 173-178, Beograd
Vitezović, Selena (2016): Bos and the bone spoon revisited: Spatula-spoons in the Starčevo culture. in: Bacvarov, Krum & Gleser, Ralf (eds.): Southeast Europe and Anatolia in prehistory. Essays in honor of Vassil Nikolov on his 65th anniversary, Universitätsforschungen zur prähistorischen Archäologie, 189-196, Bonn
References on bone tool assemblages with spoons:
Antonovic, Dragana / Vitezović, Selena / Šarić, J. (2019): The Early Neolithic settlement at Velesnica. in: Filipović, V. / Bulatovic, Jelena B. / Kapuran, A. (eds.): Papers in Honour of Rastko Vasić 80th Birthday, 63-70, Beograd
Beldiman, Corneliu & Sztancs, Diana-Maria (2011): Technology of skeletal materials of the Starčevo-Criş Culture in Romania. Some considerations. in: Luca, Sabin Adrian & Suciu, Cosmin (eds.): The First Neolithic Sites in Central/South‐East European Transect. Volume II: Early Neolithic (Starčevo‐Criş) Sites on the Territory of Romania, British Archaeological Reports International Series, 55-70, Oxford
Russell, Nerissa (2006): Çatalhöyük worked bone. in: Hodder, Ian (ed.): Çatalhöyük perspectives: reports from the 1995–99 seasons, 339-367, Ankara
Russell, Nerissa (2012): Worked bone from the BACH area. in: Tringham, Ruth & Stevanović, Mirjana (eds.): BACH Area Reports from Çatalhöyük 347-359, Los Angeles

November 2020

The artefact above has been found at Křížkovského 10 Street, Olomouc, Moravia, Czech Republic, during an archaeological excavation led by archaeologists from The National Heritage Institute, department Olomouc. It was recovered from a settlement layer together with early medieval ceramic sherds. The layer is preliminarily dated to the period from the 2nd half of the 10th to the early 11th century. The artefact of yet unknown function is made from an antler tine and shows an elaborate carving on one side and two holes drilled perpendicular to its axis. The maximal length of the object is 12 cm, the maximal width 2,4 cm.

Could anyone recommend me some articles with analogous findings? I will be very thankful for any information about similar finds. Has anybody an idea what function or purpose it may have been used for?

Renáta Přichystalová

 October 2020

The perforated bone disc shown above has been found at the Late Stone Age Matjes River site in South Africa and is 5.000 to 9.000 years old. The disc is 125.3 mm long, 31.7 mm wide and 2.2 mm thick and weighs 11.55 g. It was thought to be a pendant for many years based on its morphology, but after careful examination under a microscope it was found that the placement of use-wear did not correspond to what would be expected on a pendant, but rather matched the placement of use-wear on experimental spinning discs. Kumbani et al. (2019) concluded that this perforated worked bone was created and used to produce sound by spinning it through the air while attached to a piece of string. It is thus probably a very early example of an aerophone or bullroarer.

Justin Bradfield

Kumbani, Joshua / Bradfield, Justin / Rusch, Neil / Wurz, Sarah (2019): A functional investigation of southern Cape Later Stone Age artefacts resembling aerophones. – Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 24, 693-711

September 2020

An interesting example for artefacts in which the material properties of antler seem to have been the reason for the choice of the raw material are medieval to early modern crossbow nuts. Crossbows appear first in the 12th and went out of use in the 17th century (Bischop 2008, 99-100). The nut is the turnable part in the center of a crossbow keeping the string in tension before loading the crossbow with an arrow. Pulling the trigger, the nut revolves and releases the string. While different raw materials like wood, metal, horn or bone have been employed for various functional or decorative parts of crossbows, the high tension forces acting on the nut apparently lead to the choice of antler as raw material for this constructional element, crossing geographical and cultural borders throughout Europe and beyond. Antler has obviously been regarded as superior to other materials by the artisans, even to iron, since nearly all archaeologcal finds of crossbow nuts were manufactured from antler.
In her report of the late 15th to early 16th century crossbow makers workshop located in the archbishops palace of Trondheim, Norway, Holst Booth (1996) analysed 19 nuts and could distinguish two different types. The more common ones are lathe turned from a single piece of antler.  A second, less common type, has been constructed of two parts joined together with glue and rivets (see below). Usually, the dense part of the antler burr is emploed for the manufacture of crossbow nuts, but in Trondheim several  specimens were made from sections of antler beam including areas with Spongiosa.
Some other (randomly collected) examples include:
• one nut  from the 13th century motte Schulenburg, near Salzwedel , Germany (Biermann & Posselt 2018, 13)
• ten nuts from Vilnius castle, Lithuania, plus several more from the late 14th to early 15th century old town of Vilnius (Luik et al. 2019, 195, 197-198, fig. 8.2)
• one 15th to 16th century find from Utrecht, the Netherlands (van Vilsteren 1987, 34, fig. 26)
• two late 16th century examples from Bremen, Germany (Bischop 2008, 98-100, fig. 15.1; Bischop & Küchelmann 2018, 148; Küchelmann 2014, 40-41, tab. 13, fig. 19g)
• a late 16th to 17th century find from the castle of Alcácer do Sal, Portugal
• and 11 medieval finds from the UK (MacGregor 1985, 158-161).

Crossbow nuts from Vilnius castle (from Luik et al. 2019, 197, fig. 8.2);
crossbow nut from Bremen (from Bischop 2008, 100, fig. 15.1);
nut and trigger from Alcácer do Sal (photo: Küchelmann);
crossbow with position of nut (from Bischop 2008, 100, fig. 15.1);
composite nut from archbishop’s palace in Trondheim (from Holst Booth 1996, 96, fig. 3a-b).

Hans Christian Küchelmann

• Biermann, Felix & Posselt, Normen (2018): Erdhügel aus der Ritterzeit. – Archäologie in Deutschland 2/2018, 8-13
Bischop, Dieter (2008): Werften und Wracks am Weserufer: Vorbericht über die Grabung Beluga auf dem Teerhof 2007. – Bremer Archäologische Blätter Neue Folge 7, 93-110
• Bischop, Dieter & Küchelmann, Hans Christian (2018): Von der Küche in den Graben – Bremens Stadtgraben und die Essgewohnheiten seiner Anwohner an der Wende zur Frühen Neuzeit. in: Melzer, Walter (ed.): Lebensmittel im Mittelalter und in der frühen Neuzeit. Erzeugung, Verarbeitung, Versorgung. Beiträge des 16. Kolloquiums des Arbeitskreises zur archäologischen Erforschung des mittelalterlichen Handwerks, Soester Beiträge zur Archäologie 15, 137-151, Soest
Credland, A. G. (1991): A Crossbow Nut from Stray Farm. – Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries 34
Holst Booth, Annette (1996): Crossbow production at the Archbishop’s Palace, Trondheim, Norway. – Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries 39, 94-100
Küchelmann, Hans Christian (2014): Frühneuzeitliche Tierknochen aus dem Bremer Stadtgraben, Grabung 253-Altstadt 2011 • Am Wall, Bericht für die Landesarchäologie Bremen, Bremen
Luik, Heidi / Piličiauskienė, Giedrė / Blaževičius, Povilas (2019): Late Medieval and Early Modern Bone and Antler Working in the Vilnius Castle Complex. – Cuadernos de Prehistoria y Arqueología de la Universidad de Granada 29, 187-201
MacGregor, Arthur G. (1985): Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn – The Technology of Skeletal Materials Since the Roman Period, Oxford
Payne-Gallwey, R. (1903): The Crossbow, London
van Vilsteren, Vincent T. (1987): Het Benen Tijdperk – Gebruiksvoorwerpen van been, gewei, hoorn en ivoor 10.000 jaar geleden tot heden, Assen

August 2020

This month we would like to point your attention towards some rather unusual artefacts found in a sewage pit in the Herrengasse in Vienna. They belong to a pompous saddle of a high status person, which has been decorated with elaborately carved plates of horse or cattle pelvis and a frame of red deer antler. Analogies to similar finds place these items in the late 14th till late 15th century. According to the archaeological context, the disposal of the saddle is dated into the first half of the 16th century. For a detailed description see the article of Tarcsay (2018) on the website of the Stadtarchäologie Wien.

Top: part of  decorative plate of the late medieval pompous saddle found in Vienna, photo: Sigrid Czeika, Stadtarchäologie Wien; bottom: reconstruction of the saddle, drawing: Constance Litschauer, Kinga Tarcsay, Stadtarchäologie Wien.

Kinga Tarcsay & Hans Christian Küchelmann

Tarcsay, Kinga (2018): „Reiten auf Elfenbein“: Ein mittelalterlicher Prunksattel aus Wien, online-publication, Wien

July 2020

The Kamelen NGoni is a pentatonic harp from the Mandingue region in West Africa, especially from Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea. It originates from the Donso NGoni, the 6-strings harp of the hunters caste, which is used as a ceremonial instrument to accompany traditional chanting, praising and storytelling of the hunters. The Kamelen NGoni is a modern instrument, the first was made in the 1950s by adding more strings to the Donso NGoni. So, the harp for the young people (kamelen) was born, with usually 10, 12 or 14 strings. The construction is the same: a skin of a goat is stretched with nails over a large calabash. The strings are bound at a long neck where they can be tuned and are connected to the base of the NGoni over a bridge on the middle of the goat skin.

The rhythms played on the Kamelen NGoni are modern arrangements, often adapted from balaphone and kora rhythms. There are two different styles to play the NGoni. In Burkina Faso they play it with four fingers, like my teacher Aboubakar Traore from Bobo Dioulasso. In the Mali style the NGoni is played with only three fingers and string-crossing. This style is best represented by the musician Abou Diarra.

When making a Kamelen NGoni, I use bone inlays or beads to lead the strings through holes in the neck to avoid scratches in the wood (see photos below). Metal loops would serve this purpose as well, but sometimes there is the problem that their sharp edges cut the strings, whereas bones can be polished and adapted easily. If I use bone to lead the strings, the sound of the strings gets more brilliance.
Edith Diewald

Photos: Edith Diewald.

June 2020


At a time when the whole world is challenged by a pandemic disease a relation to bone artefacts came into my mind I once had a discussion about with Simone Kahlow alongside a presentation of hers about historical medical instruments.

The syringe above is part of the collection of, who kindly gave permission to use it as this month’s bonetool. It is of British origin and was probably used to introduce chemicals per urethra for the treatment of syphilis and other venereal diseases which were rife at the turn of the 19th century and posed major health problem that time.

The syringe can be dissembled into its constituent parts. The body is made from a single hollow tube of bone onto which flat disks of bone are screwed at either end. The plunger fits through one of these and waxed chord wound around the distal end would have made a watertight connection with the body. The other end accommodates a nozzle which is also secured with a screw. The style of the instrument and the finial of the plunger date the piece to the late 18th or early 19th century.
Weight: 28 g
Size: 118 × 30 × 30 mm

Similar syringes have been found in Amsterdam and Rotterdam but are not published yet (Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen pers. com. 27.4.2020). & Hans Christian Küchelmann

May 2020

The miniature knife above has been deposited as a grave good in a children’s grave in the chapel of the monastery of the order of Saint Clare in Gouda. The grave is dated between 1470 and 1572 AD. The toy knife is made of one piece of bone, but it is shaped as a miniature copy of a late medieval to early modern knife with small points resembling the rivets and separating lines for handle and blade.
Measurements: length 45,4 mm long, breadth 6,8 mm, thickness 2,2 mm.
Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen

Rijkelijkhuizen, Marloes J. (2018): Een miniatuurmesje in het graf. in: Loopik, J. / van der Linde, C. / van Dasselaar, M. (eds.): Ora et Labora. Bidden en werken op het terrein van het Clarissenklooster te Gouda, 60, Amersfoort

April 2020

The object below has been found in an early medieval layer of a residential site in Grado, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy.If anybody has any suggestions, please get in touch with
Dario Gadidi.

The object reminds me of so-called “drietanden” found along the Flemish and Southern Netherland coast, e. g. in Antwerp (n = 9; Ervynck 1998, 16-17, 40-42, fig. 4), Gent (n = 2; Ervynck et al. 2013, 223, 227-228, 231-232, fig. 9) and Duurstede (n = 1; van der Tuuk & Lauwerier 2013). All objects are made from diaphyses of large cattle, horse or red deer. Form and find locations suggest that they are probably related to textile production, in particular to the twining of threads. They seem to have been in use in the high middle ages until the 13th century, when the invention of the spinning wheel allowed faster thread production (Ervynck et al. 2013, 227-228). For a survey of drietanden and further discussions see Lauwerier & van Klaveren (1995), Groeneweg & Vandenbulcke (1998) and Nieuwenburg-Bron & van Vilsteren (2007).
Hans Christian Küchelmann

Drietanden from Antwerpen (from Ervynck 1998, 16, fig. 4).
Ervynck, Anton (1998): Voorwerpen in been en gewei uit prestedelijk volmiddeleeuws Antwerpen (opgravingen Van de Walle 1952-1961). – Berichten en Rapporten over het Antwerps Bodemonderzoek en Monumentenzorg 2, 9-55
Ervynck, Anton / Laleman, Marie Christine / Berkers, Marten (2013): Sint-Veerleplein 11, Gravensteen: bewerkt bot en gewei. – Archeologisch onderzoek in Gent 2012, 215-236
Groeneweg, G. C. & Vandenbulcke, V. (1998): Het raadsel van de middeleeuwse benen drietand. – Westerheem 47(4), 179-185
Lauwerier, Roel C. G. M. & Van Klaveren, H. W. (1995): Bewerkt bot. in: van Heeringen, Robert M. / P. A., Henderikx / A., Mars (eds.): Vroeg-Middeleeuwse ringwalburgen in Zeeland, 193-212, Goes-Amersfoort
Nieuwenburg-Bron, Ans & van Vilsteren, Vincent T. (2007): Vissen naar een oplossing: de benen drietand wederom onder de loep. – Westerheem 56(3), 123-131
van der Tuuk, L. & Lauwerier, Roel C. G. M. (2013): Een benen drietand uit Wijk bij Duurstede. – Westerheem 62

March 2020

I am studying worked bone pieces from Alto Chacón, an Iberian Iron Age site in Teruel, Spain, in the collection of the Museo Provincial de Teruel (Atrián Jordán 1976). I have found these fork-shaped objects shown above and I’m not sure about their function. Four of them have been made from sheep or goat (Ovis / Capra) Metacarpi, except for one sheep or goat Metatarsus (2nd from left) and one cattle (Bos taurus) Metacarpus (3rd from left). I don’t have other pieces like these in other Iberian sites. Does anyone have any suggestions?
Marta Blasco Martín

Atrián Jordán, Purificación (1976): El Yacimiento Ibérico del Alto Chacón (Teruel), Excavaciones Arqueológicas en España 92, Madrid

February 2020

The object made of walrus ivory shown above has been found in a 12th century context in Novgorod, Russia. Given, that it has been made of walrus ivory imported from the Arctic it is most probably from a high status context. May I ask if anyone knows of a comparison for this artefact?
James Barrett

January 2020

Photo: Florian Dirks

The item above is part of a “teetotum”, an eight-sided gambling spinning top used for a game of chance. Its upper part, the grip used to turn the spinning top is missing. It is made of bone and has been found in the Châteaux Saint Louis in Quebec City, Canada. The archaeological features it was found in are the  dated between 1780 to 1815. The toy is currently exhibited in the museum Lieu historique national des Forts-et-Châteaux-Saint-Louis. Below are two examples of teetoti on 16th and 18th century paintings.
Hans Christian Küchelmann

Left: four-sided teetotum held by a girl in Pieter Breughel’s painting “Children’s Games” (1560); right: Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, L’enfant au touton (1738), painting in the collection of the Louvre, Paris.

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