Bonetool of the Month Archives

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.

bta 2014 10 pacifier jaffa 1  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