Bonetool of the Month Archives

August 2016

bta 2016 08 compass Iceland1 

 bta 2016 08 compass Iceland2  bta 2016 08 compass Iceland3
Sun dial from Hallsstaðir, NW-Iceland; photo and courtesy: Þjóðminjasafni Íslands, inv.-no. 307/1866-4

This elaborate and beautiful book is in fact a combination of a sun dial and a compass. It has been found in Hallsstaðir, a remote settlement in the Northwestern part of Iceland. The inscription in the compass reads „SEPT(entro) MERI(dies) OCC(idens) ORIE(ns)“. The front cover shows Saint James. The object is probably made from ivory and has been dated to the 16th century. It is said to be of either German or Spanish origin and most likely made its way to Iceland with foreign sailors. The sun dial may well be connected to the presence of Hanseatic merchants that were active at the time in Iceland. German trading stations were in operation in the Western fjords of Iceland, where the sun dial was found. The object has a size of 130 x 89 x 65 mm and is today part of the collection of the Icelandic National Museum (Þjóðminjasafni Íslands, inventory-no. 307/1866-4).

Natascha Mehler


Þjóðminjasafni Íslands, inventory-no. 307/1866-4

July 2016

bta 2016 07 harpoon Sventoji

Harpoon head decorated with circles and dots.

The Šventoji sites are the best known Neolithic sites on the west coast of Lithuania. About 60 archaeological sites as well as many isolated finds and several hoards are known and dated to the period between 6000-500 cal BC. Some of these sites were excavated in 1966-1972 and 1982-1998, during these years an area of 10300 sqare meters was investigated. The results of these investigations have been published by the researcher of the sites Rimutė Rimantienė (2005).
Numerous bone artefacts and working debris were found at sites 1-4, 6, 23 and 26 at Šventoji and could be dated to the period between 3500-2500 cal BC. The harpoon head has been found at site 6, which was intensively used between 3000-2500 cal BC.
The harpoon head shown abovewas decorated with circle and dot ornaments, which is unusual in the Neolithic context of the eastern Baltic region. An elk metatarsus decorated with pentagonal and hexagonal motifs cut around the central dot, imitating a circle and dot decoration, has been also found from the same site. Probably the harpoon head with circle and dot decoration was not locally made and someone without the necessary tool, skills and know-how has tried to copy such decoration on elk metatarsal bone.

Heidi Luik & Giedrė Piličiauskienė
bta 2016 07 sventoji1
Harpoon head decorated with circles and dots and a bone with an imitation of such decoration.
Photos: Lithuanian National Museum (left) and Giedrė Piličiauskienė (right); finds in the Lithuanian National Museum.
bta 2016 07 sventoji2
Decoration on elk metatarsus. Photo: Giedrė Piličiauskienė. . 
Rimantiene, R. (2005): Die Steinzeitfischer an der Ostseelagune in Litauen. Forschungen in Šventoji und Butingė, Vilnius

June 2016

 bta 2016 06 taba argentina1  bta 2016 06 taba argentina2
bta 2016 06 taba argentina3 bta 2016 06 taba argentina4
Fotos: Alice Choyke

The gaming piece above was bought 2010 at a flea market in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is used in the Taba game, a throwing game played traditionally by Argentinian Gauchos involving cattle astragali.

The rules are a bit reminiscent of tennis: opponents play on a plot of land divided into two halves by a line. Players throw the taba from around five meters away, one on each side of the line. The astragalus must pass onto the opposite side of the "court", otherwise the shot is repeated. After playing both contestants check on which side the bone fell. The concave surface shaped S is called "flesh" or "luck". The losing side is "ass" (culo, cf. rear rather than donkey) when the taba falls flat side up. The astragalus falling flat is a null shot. The bone is often fitted with metal plates or cut to balance the weight and prevent bone chipping when hitting the ground. What needs to be investigated is whether the luck is called lateral side. And I still do not have the faintest idea why the metal reinforcement on our specimen has a metal edge. I was told at the flea-market in Buenos Aires, that it helps fastening the bone in the ground. Like throwing knives?? The game itself looks remarkably different from what people do with sheep astragali between the Mediterranean and Central Asia.

László Bartosiewicz & Alice Choyke

May 2016

This month the 11th meeting of the WBRG will take place in Iasi, Romania, and as it has become a tradition to display a bone artefact from the hosting country in the meeting month, this months bonetools are two modified cattle (Bos taurus) astragali, which are part of an unusual deposit of 25 astragali of different ungulate species (cattle, red deer, sheep/goat) discovered in the Cucuteni A1 level (Chalcolithic, 4662-4465 cal BC) of the site Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru (Bacau County, Romania). The deposit of astragali was clustered in clay layers of a house foundation built on tree trunks. The bones were calcined, probably in the fire that destroyed the dwelling. 17 specimen show abraded and polished facets on the anterior surface and on all of them traces of ochre remain. They are interpreted either as gaming pieces or as tools to work hide.

Luminita Bejenaru 
bta 2016 05 poduri astragal
Bejenaru, Luminita / Monah, Dan / Bodi, George (2010): A deposit of astragali at the Copper Age tell of Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru, Romania. – Antiquity • Project Gallery

April 2016

bta 2016 04 ashdod ivory
Foto: Museum of Philistine Culture Ashdod, Israel Antiquities Authority, from Litani (2013, 23).
This elaborate ivory carving of an ibex has been found in 8th century BC contexts of the Philistine city of Ashdod, Israel. It is interpreted as a stopper of a perfume vessel or as a part of furniture decoration.

Galit Litani & Etan Ayalon

Litani, Galit (2013): The World of the Philistines, Ashdod