Bonetool Archives 2021

December 2021

This expressive carving was found in a random box of stuff in a factory storeroom in New Jersey, USA. It is about 5 inches (12,7 cm) in length. The raw material has been identified as the maxilla of a walrus (Odobenus rosmarus). By stylistic comparison it can be assigned to the work of Greenlandic Inuit, probably made in the 1930s-1940s. A similar carving is on display in the virtual collection of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum in Brunswick, Maine, USA. This carving has been made in the 1940s by an unknown Inuit artist in the Kangaamiut community in Western Greenland. It is possible that the carving found in New Jersey stems from the same context.
Suzanne Pilaar Birch

Photos: Lucas Birch

November 2021

The interesting artefacts below have been sent by Ian Riddler in August 2018. They were found at Ely, Cambridgeshire, UK, and date to the 15th to 16th century. The horse metapodiae show curved grooves worn into them. Similar artefacts made of horse and occasionally cattle metapodiae have been identified by Gidney (2016) as technical parts of mills, leading the so-called shoe, from which the grain flows into the eye of the millstone.

Gidney, Louisa (2016): Bone artefacts from medieval and post-medieval windmills: changing interpretations. in: Vitezović, Selena (ed.): Close to the bone: current studies in bone technologies, 128-132, Beograd

October 2021

An amulet showing the dwarf god Bes has been found during excavations of the Institut für Klassische Archäologie, University of Tübingen, in Cossyra on the island of Pantelleria, Italy (Kat. 1. PN 02 ACR IV 674. Inv. 2477). It was recovered at the North slope of the acropolis in room 7, which has been filled in the 1st century BC. The amulet has a size of 2,5 x 1,3 x ,08 cm and is carved from bone. Characteristic attributes of the god Bes are his body-proportions, a strong whisker-type beard and a crown of ostrich feathers. Despite numerous illustrations of Bes, there is so far only one comparable amulet made of bone, which has been found on Ibiza. Given the similarities, both may have been manufactured in the same workshop, possibly in Carthage. For further details see Baumann (2015).
Stefan Baumann

Photos: Bildarchiv Pantelleria-Grabung, Universität Tübingen
Baumann, Stefan (2015): Bes-Amulett. in: Schäfer, Thomas / Schmidt, Karin / Osanno, Massimo (eds.): Cossyra I. Die Ergebnisse der Grabungen auf der Akropolis von Pantelleria / S. Teresa. Der Sakralbereich. Teil 2, 1085-1087, Rahden

September 2021

This month, the 14th WBRG meeting took place in Johannesburg, South Africa. Therefore, as usual this month’s bonetool features an artefact from the hosting country. This time it is a bone hoe from Pont Drift in the Limpopo Valley, dated 10th-13th century AD. It is made from a bovine scapula and was probably hafted to a wooden handle. Use-wear analysis makes it likely that this implement has been used in soil working. For more information see Bradfield & Antonites (2018). The tool is housed at the Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History in Pretoria (inv. no. TPD 4612).
Annie Antonites & Justin Bradfield

Bradfield, Justin & Antonites, Annie R. (2018): Bone hoes from the Middle Iron Age, Limpopo Province, South Africa. – Quaternary International 472, 126-134

August 2021

A pair of perforated plates, similar to the ones from Toledo, Spain, presented here last month, have been excavated in Southern Bulgaria. They are manufactured somewhat finer and more ornate from antler and were found in grave 13 at the site Selishteto near Polski Gradets, dated ca. 13th to 12th century BC. Interestingly, the artefacts were likewise found in the grave of a young male, right below his mandible. That is why Krassimir Nikov, the archaeologist who excavated them back in the 1990s, thought they could have been used to close a cloak or a funeral shroud. The grave also contained a bone and a bronze arrowhead and a perforated whetstone. The grave is particularly interesting because the bronze arrowhead finds its best parallels in the Aegean (Mycenaean) world, while the bone arrowhead is more at home in the Balkans and the Northern black sea coast. It is not impossible that during 13th century BC one guy could have maintained contacts to such faraway places. That is why I find it exciting that similar ornamental pieces could have been much wider distributed than I would have expected, based on the other finds in that grave. I wish others may follow the suit and signal comparable finds from elsewhere. Hopefully, one day the whole complex will get the attention and the publication it deserves.

Petar Zidarov

Photos: Krassimir Nikov, Historical Museum Nova Zagora

• Nikov, Krassimir (2001): Cultural Interrelations in the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age. – Maritsa-Iztok Archaeological Research 5, 69–81

July 2021

The two bone artefacts below have been found near the mandible of a human skeleton in Yuncos, a Bronze Age site near Toledo, Spain. I think they were fashioned from cattle radii but I have no idea of their function. The double perforations are present only on one side, suggesting a string could have gone through so they could be hung or attached to something. The proximal and distal edges are polished. They are 57 mm in length and the lateral-medial width is approximately 34mm. Any thoughts, parallels or comments would be most welcome.

Marta Moreno Garcia

June 2021

This months bonetools actually deserve this name literally. The so called leg vices shown above, made of bone and iron, are smithing tools found in Viking Age graves in Iceland, all of which are dated prior to the 11th century. They were used by the smith to fix the object he was working on. Similar tools were used in Iceland until the modern period. The lower right example has a length of 8 cm (Eldjárn 2000, 408; Mehler 2007, 231, fig. 4).

Natascha Mehler

• Eldjárn, Kirstján (2000): Kuml og haugfé úr heiðnum sið á Íslandi, Reykjavík
Mehler, Natascha (2007): Viking age and medieval craft in Iceland: Adaptation to extraordinary living conditions on the edge of the Old World. in: Klápste, Jan & Sommer, Petr (eds.): Arts and Crafts in Medieval Rural Environment, Ruralia 6, 227-244, Turnhout

May 2021

The probably Saxon bone artefact above was found at Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, England, in 2014 and seems to have no immediately obvious use. It has been suggested it may be an end for a belt, but with nothing really to support that. Equally, there seems to be no specific polish to suggest that it was a textile beating or weaving tool either. The dimensions of the piece are 118mm x 11mm x 5mm. Any suggestions of use or known parallels would be gratefully received.

David Constantine

April 2021

Tabula rasa! An extraordinary stilus from Saxony

An unusual stilus has been found 2012 during archaeological excavations in the lower bailey of the castle Mylau in the Vogtland in Saxony, Germany (Hardt 2012; Hemkler & Hardt 2012). The castle Mylau is first mentioned in 1212, but the stilus comes from a late medieval context. It is 6,6 cm long, has a cross-shape and is made of bone, showing a reddish-brown stain. The head, used as burnisher, has a central hole around which three carved dice of 0,6-0,7 cm size are arranged. The pips on the dice are decorated in a ring-and-dot style, neatly and accurately applied with a 3-pointed drill. The arrangement of the pips confers to the so-called Nordic type, in which the following numbers are placed opposite to each other (1-2, 3-4, 5-6). This pattern is found in high and late medieval contexts (11th – 15th century) alongside conventionally numbered dice (Eerkens & de Voogt 2018, 165-167; Erath 1996; MacGregor 1985, 131-132; MacGregor et al. 1999, 1983-1985). Overall the stilus appears to be the work of an experienced bone worker.
The stilus from Mylau has no parallels in medieval contexts so far, which leaves room for interpretations. Medieval stili are usually longer, but there are examples of comparable short stili from the Nordic sphere (Sołtan-Kościelecka 2007). It is possible that the stilus was used to count and eradicate scores of dice games on a wax board or to line out a game plan. The significance of the cross-shape in combination with the dice, however, has to be left for future research. Did the owner wish for divine assistance? Or did the shape result out of raw material availability?
Christiane Hemker, Landesamt für Archäologie Sachsen

Photos: Ursula Wohmann, Landesamt für Archäologie Sachsen

Eerkens, Jelmer W. & de Voogt, Alexander J. (2018): The Evolution of cubic Dice from the Roman through Post-Medieval Period in the Netherlands. – Acta Archaeologica 88(1), 163-173
Erath, Marianne (1996): Studien zum mittelalterlichen Knochenschnitzerhandwerk – Die Entwicklung eines spezialisierten Handwerks in Konstanz, Dissertation Universität Freiburg im Breisgau, Freiburg
Hardt, Susann (2012): Burg, Kaiserschloss und ein seltener Schreibgriffelfund. Die Ausgrabungen 2011/2012 auf der Burg Mylau. – Archaeo 9, 46-51
Hemker, Christiane & Hardt, Susann (2012): Rätselhafter Fund von Burg Mylau. – Archäologie in Deutschland 5/2012, 58-59
MacGregor, Arthur G. (1985): Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn – The Technology of Skeletal Materials Since the Roman Period, London
MacGregor, Arthur G. / Mainman, Ailsa J. / Rogers, Nicola S. H. (1999): Craft, Industry and Everyday Life: Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn from Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York, The Archaeology of York 17/12, York
Sołtan-Kościelecka, Klara (2007): Ausgewählte spätmittelalterliche Schreibgriffel aus dem Ostseegebiet und dem östlichen Mitteleuropa. – Arbeits- und Forschungsberichte zur sächsischen Bodendenkmalpflege 47, 223–254

March 2021

The item above is an interesting example of the re-use of an artefact and its development into an object of a completely different function. It has been found in house VI at the Naujan site in Repulse Bay in the Central Canadian Arctic (Houmard & Grønnow 2017, 453-454, fig. 5). The site has been occupied by Thule culture people (ca. 1250 AD) and until the beginning of the 20th century by Aivilirmiut Inuit. The artefact used to be a toothbrush manufactured between 1870 and 1919 by the Japanese „Imperial Brush Factory“, which had a distributor in New York, USA. The Inuit re-shaped it into a meat fork. It is thus an object that allows to trace the life history of an artefact (Choyke & Daroczi-Szabo 2010).
Claire Houmard

Choyke, Alice M. & Daroczi-Szabo, Márta (2010): The Complete and Usable Tool: Some Life Histories of Prehistoric Bone Tools in Hungary. in: Legrand-Pineau, Alexandra / Sidéra, Isabelle / Buc, Natacha / David, Eva / Scheinsohn, Vivian (eds.): Ancient and Modern Bone Artefacts from America to Russia. Cultural, technological and functional signature 2136, 235-248
Houmard, Claire & Grønnow, Bjarne (2017): A Technological Study of a Canadian Thule Type-Site: Naujan (ca. AD 1300-1900). – Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française 114(3), 445-468

February 2021

I wonder if anyone has seen or uncovered similar bone tools like the ones shown below, and wonder what they are, fishing tools perhaps. They were accidentally found during plantation in central Thailand. The site name is Sri Bua Thong located in Sawaengha District of the Ang Thong Province, central Thailand. Recent excavation by the Thai Fine Arts Department archaeological team at the site has revealed a number of human burials with grave goods (mostly earthenware vessels and some bronze artifacts), suggesting the site dates to Bronze Age, c. 3000-2500 BP.
Thanik Lertcharnrit

January 2021

Photo: Kimmo Virkkunen

A happy, healthy and hopefully less complicated new year to everybody! Maybe some of you want to raise a glass of sparkling wine or champagne on this occasion. And maybe you do not like too many bubbles in your glass. In that case you need a ‚Samppanjavispilät‘ (champagne whisk), a device to stir the bubbles out of your glass. And bone artefact people like you might be intrigued by the ones shown above, designed and manufactured in the 1990s by Kimmo Virkkunen, goldsmith from Espoo, Finland, on request of a customer from penis bones (Baculum) of male brown bears (Ursos arctos) and 925 silver.

The story how this extraordinary artefact came here is also one of a nice collaboration. The Samppanjavispilät has been mentioned to me by archaeologist Natascha Mehler, Tübingen University, who found it by chance 2017 on the website of Kimmo Virkkunen. I would have liked to use this item as bonetool of the month here, but were unable to reach Mr. Virkkunen until I asked Kristiina Mannermaa in Helsinki if she might give him a call. Many thanks to Kimmo Virkkunen for his permission to show his artwork here.
Hans Christian Küchelmann

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