Bonetool of the Month Archives

July 2014

bta 2014 07 herxheim1
Four very thin and large bone points found together in the inner pit ring of the Early Neolithic Linear Pottery Culture earthwork at the site of Herxheim in 2008. The length of the points is 149-222 mm with a thickness of only 2-3 mm. The picture below shows the find situation in the field. The points, possibly hair or clothing pins, were made from long bones of red deer or domestic cattle.
bta 2014 07 herxheim2
Photos: Fabian Haack. GDKE Rheinland-Pfalz, Landesarchäologie, Außenstelle Speyer
Haack, Fabian (2013): Ein Beutel voller Knochennadeln. Produktion und Deponierung von außergewöhnlichen Knochenspitzen aus der linienbandkeramischen Siedlung von Herxheim. in: Zeeb-Lanz, A. & Stupperich, R. (eds.): Palatinus Illustrandus. Festschrift für Helmut Bernhard zum 65. Geburtstag, 47-51, Wiesbaden


June 2014

bta 2014 06 seam rubber nz
Foto: Küchelmann

Seam rubber from New Zealand
Seam rubbers were used by sailors for working sailcloth and other textiles. They were often manufactured by whalers during whaling voyages. The specimen above is made from spermwhale ivory and most probably of 19th century origin. It is from a private collection in New Zealand. For more seamrubbers of various designs out of the collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum see Frank (2012, 166-167), for a description of their use see Garrett-Smith (1990, 87, 90).

Frank, Stuart M. (2012): Ingenious Contrivances, Curiously Carved. Scrimshaw in the New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford
Garrett-Smith, H. (1990): The Art of the Sailor: Knotting, Splicing and Ropework, New York

May 2014

bta 2014 05 valais rib bta 2014 05 tongeren rib
Gamsen-Waldmatte, Valais, Switzerland
Tongeren, Belgium

Iron age finds from Switzerland
The toothed ribs on the left have been found at the site Gamsen-Waldmatte (Valais, Switzerland), an alpine settlement of the Iron Age, situated at the foot of the mountain Glishorn. The settlement is located close to very important transalpine routes (Simplon, Albrun).
Altogether there are seventeen of these toothed ribs among the bone tools of Gamsen-Waldmatte. Only one rib is toothed double-sided. The teeth are always blunt and remarkably rounded, which possibly indicates the use of the ribs in connection to rather soft material. The incisions, which form the teeth sometimes go deep, but also at times stay very superficial, so that the teeth are hardly visible.

Roman period finds from Tongeren, Belgium
Two toothed objects have been found at excavations in Tongeren, Belgium. Both are dated to the third century AD. One is made of the processus spinosus of a large mammal vertebra. The length of the object is circa 15 cm, the greatest width 3,3 cm. At one end blunt teeth were made. The other end seems to have functioned as a handle. A fragment of a second toothed object has been found at the same site. In the Netherlands toothed ribs have been found from the Frisian terp-mounds (Roes 1963), their function is still unknown.

Several flat bone tools with blunt teeth have been found at different sites in Europe. The function of these objects remains unknown, although there are several ideas regarding their purpose: As scraper or burnisher for structuring / decorating soft material, as comb in textile working, as knife for removing the scales of a fish, as tool for the sharpening of knives, as ruler or measuring tool, as musical instrument, as a scraper to deflesh skins, etc. It would be interesting to test these assumptions in archaeological experiments. Unfortunately, no use wear analysis could be done just yet. We would be grateful for comments or ideas about the function or comparative finds.

Corina Caravatti & Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen

Roes, Anna (1963): Bone and antler objects from the Frisian terp-mounds, Haarlem

April 2014

Rather rough tools.

The antler object shown below was sent to the Bonetool Mailing List by David Constantine in December 2013 with a request for similar artefacts or suggestions regarding its purpose. It was found on a coastal site in Scotland and is dated sometime from the Late Iron Age through to Late Norse. It appears unfinished (or least rather rough) and the end of the hook has a drilled out hole (possibly for a metal spike though there is no staining). As can be seen from the pen in the photo, the hook is quite large (about 200mm long) and certainly bigger than a “normal” fishing hook. David would still be grateful for comments.

bta 2014 04 hook scotland 1  bta 2014 04 hook scotland 2  bta 2014 04 hook scotland 3


Subsequent suggestions brought two examples of simple hooks for bags or clothes from opposite areas of the world:

On the left is an elk (Cervus elaphus) hook found in a well at James Fort, Virginia, USA, that had been backfilled in the spring of 1610. James Fort was constructed by the English shortly after their arrival in Virginia. In May 1607, they established their colony (England’s first transatlantic colony) on the banks of the James River, which is a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. This is the third elk artifact found although it is not known if elk were present in Tidewater Virginia in the early 17th century or if the elk objects reached Jamestown by way of the Indian trade. The hook is a shed antler consisting of two branches. The back has been shaved flat, so it could be attached to a wall or post. Two large holes were drilled into the upright branch and one nail is still in situ. The other branch is at a 45 degree angle to be used as a suspension hook. Length 245 mm. Contribution by Beverly A. Straube.

On the right is an actual antler hook as it has been used by Mongolians in their ger (tent) until the end of the 20th century. It is made from red deer (Cervus elaphus) antler with just a hole to fix a thong made in leather. Contribution by Denis Ramseyer.

 bta 2014 04 hook fort james    bta 2014 04 hook mongolia

March 2014

The two decorative bone plates above have been found at Conisbrough Castle, a 12th centrury fortress in South Yorkshire, England. The thin section flat pieces are shaped with a hook at one end, a narrowing at the centre and have a drilled fastening hole at the opposite end. They are decorated on one side only at their border with a line of fine drilled dots. They are left and right side of a symmetrical pair. There is unfortunately no proper context information for the finds, which means that they could be anything from medieval until as late as 19th century, when the site was an open romantic ruin for leisurely picnics. There are no clues of their function yet and curator Kevin Booth would be grateful for any comments.

 bta 2014 03 conisbrough1  bta 2014 03 conisbrough2
Photos: Kevin Booth, English Heritage.