Bonetool of the Month Archives

October 2015

Since the 18th meeting of the ICAZ Fish Remains Working Group (FRWG) is taking place this week in Lisboa, it might be a nice idea to present some worked fish bone as this months bonetool.

The object shown below is a 19th century wall decoration in form of a bouqut of flowers made out of fish bones and dried thistle blossoms. It is displayed in the exhibition of the Museum Eckernförde, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. The fish species that are identifiable without closer examination are cod (Gadus morhua), carp-like fishes (Cyprinidae) and pike (Esox lucius).

The object has a taphonomic history itself: It fell off the wall and had to be restored. Obviously there are less fishbones integrated at present than before the accident (see below right).

Dirk Heinrich & Christian Küchelmann

 bta 2015 10 fish bone decoration1  bta 2015 10 fish bone decoration2
Museum Eckernförde, Inv.-Nr. AB 810, photos: Dirk Heinrich

September 2015

 bta 2015 09 Ephesos  
Photo: Niki Gail, Austrian Archaeological Institute.

Small find made of bone
 from Ephesos
(ID-no. EVH15 3045/3237)


The small object displayed above was excavated this year in the Late Antique residence south of the Church of Mary in Ephesos on the West Coast of Turkey. Excavations at Ephesos have been conducted since 1895 by the Austrian Archaeological Institute; the particular location is archaeologically investigated since 2011. The finds are of a great variety and among them are numerous bone artefacts. Decorative needles comprise a major part of these bone objects; other finds made of bone are discs, plates, tubes, sewing needles and gaming pieces.


The object presented here is unique in this context. It consists of two separate pieces: a corpus and a lid. The state of preservation is excellent, the object is nearly complete (only parts of the rings are broken in small areas).
The corpus is a cone, lathe-turned out of the diaphysis of a large mammal long bone (most probably a metatarsus of cattle). The hollow cavity is smooth and consists of the nearly unworked inner surface of the marrow cavity. The main part of the corpus is defined by two turned rings. The lower one is simple, the upper one consists of multiple lines. The upper edge of the object is flat and polished and the central opening at the top is closed with a lid. The bottom is open and does not show any damage, supporting the assumption that the object is whole.
On the outer surface shallow decorative engravings are visible. The decorations consist of twelve triangles based at the upper ring and reaching nearly the lower one with their tips, giving the object the appearance of a flower blossom. The lid is lathe-turned as well and terminates in a conical top, resulting in a very harmonic appearance.
The function of the object remains uncertain so far. One idea is the use as a cover of a vessel, but there are no use-wear traces at the bottom of the object supporting this. The object might also have been a small container with the bottom closed once by a bone disc fixed into the marrow cavity, but also for this hypothesis no supporting evidence like e. g. manufacturing marks or glue traces exist. A third option would be that it may have been the top of a larger composite object. Any ideas, comments or information about comparative objects, etc. are welcome.
Elise Baudouin

August 2015

 bta 2015 08 york painted bone
Horse cervical vertebra painted as a blessing parson from the collection of the York Castle Museum (inventory no. YORCM: AA3987), produced between 1730 and 1840 AD.

Many worked objects are so heavily altered that it is often difficult to identify the species or the skeletal element used. In the case of this horse vertebra (see above) the original shape is entirely preserved but its features have been enhanced with paint to give it an entirely different identity. Another example, a whale's ear bone painted with a face, can be found in the collections of the Hull Maritime Museum, UK. Two more painted tympanic bullae of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) have been displayed in a whale exhibition at the LWL-Museum für Naturkunde Münster, Germany, tagged as dolls heads from 20th century Norway (see below).

Whole, largely unmodified animal bones, have been given a multitude of functions by different cultures, such as the widespread use of knuckle bones as gaming pieces. The particular characteristic of these painted pieces, however, is that they are comical and humour is difficult to detect through the study of bone finds or archaeological material in general. All these are relatively recent, historical examples. Would we spot archaeological examples if the paint has deteriorated?
Sonia O'Connor

bta 2015 08 Muenster painted1  bta 2015 08 Muenster painted2
Painted tympanic bullae of sperm whales displayed 2012 in the exhibition "Wale – Riesen der Meere" in the LWL-Museum für Naturkunde Münster. Photo: Küchelmann
York Museum Trust
Hull Museum Collections

July 2015

 bta 2015 07 starcevo spoon1  bta 2015 07 starcevo spoon2
Photos: Archives of the National Museum Belgrade, Serbia.

Bone spoon from Starčevo-Grad (Banat, northern Serbia) found during the excavations 1928-1932 (inv. 1991, National Museum, Belgrade). These spoons are made from large Bos sp. metatarsals and are an indicator artifact for the Early Neolithic of the region.

Selena Vitezovic

Vitezović, Selena (2011): Koštana industrija u starijem i srednjem neolitu centralnog Balkana [Bone industry in the Early and Middle Neolithic in central Balkans], PhD thesis University of Belgrade, Belgrade

June 2015

 bta 2015 06 Viljandi bag

Broken antler object from Viljandi, Estonia and a bag with similar detail from Laihia, Finland (from Sirelius 1919, fig. 298-301).
The antler plate from Viljandi was probably used for a long time since the plaited ornament on it is worn and visible only at one end. It was found in a castle held by the Viljandi Order. The finds from the castle mostly date to the 13th–16th centuries although some later finds are also known. Some similar bag details occur in Finland, e. g. Suomusjärvi, Laihia and Kurikka. A date of ‘1734’ is engraved on one of them.

Ulla Kadakas and Heidi Luik

• Sirelius, U. T. (1919): Suomen kansanomaista kulttuuria, I. Esineellisen kansatieteen tuloksia, Helsinki