Bonetool of the Month Archives

September 2013

Decorated bone box from Givati Parking Lot Excavations, Jerusalem, Israel.

This miniature box has been found between two plastered floors, both dated to the late phase of the Byzantine period in Jerusalem (6th-7th cent. AD). The lid is decorated with an incised cross inside a double incised frame, and the inside of both parts of the box bears a painted picture. A high frame on the base of the box fits to a low carved frame on its lid, which allows hermetic closing of the box. It was found closed, and that is how the delicate paintings were preserved for almost 1400 years.
The picture inside the base of the box is of a male face on a background of gold. The man wears a white tonic with red stripes on his shoulder and he has dark hair. The picture inside the lid is smaller, and probably bears the image of a woman in a blue tonic, on a gold background.
The pigments were analyzed in the Hebrew University lab of Nano-Technology, and were found to be based on "white led" (cerussa), a common material in the ancient world, also mentioned by Pliny the Elder and Vitruvius. The gold background leaf was added after the drawing of the pictures was finished. The fact that the gold leaf is spread inside the entire breadth of the box and is not shaped like a halo does not mean these are not saints. The conventions for Christian iconography were set only at 692 AD, and saints with no halo are known in Christian art before and after that year. During the 6th and 7th centuries AD, the number of saints worshiped by the church rose to a few hundreds, so it is difficult to recognise the persons in the images, but the option of Jesus and Miriam can not be ruled out.
The box was not used to store a a relic (reliquary). Instead, it was a personal sacred item carried on the body. When needed, the owner could open it, and make it the focal point for his prayers. Such private icons are known in literature since the 5th cent. AD, but the one from Jerusalem is the only one ever found complete and with paintings. A lid of an exact similar object, but without the preserved painting, was found in Jerash, Jordan.
Ariel Shatil

The box was published in Hebrew media in May 2011, an English scientific publication by Y. Tchekhanovits is forthcoming.
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Photos: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

August 2013

bta 2013 08 kohl container Arslantepe

A fragment of a container from Arslantepe, Turkey, found in the first Early Bronze Age level (VIB). It has possibly been used as vessel for kohl.

Alice Choyke

July 2013


This double-sided box zither (Horniman Museum, London, accession no. 2010.0.1) was made in 2004 by Sergei Charkov of Khakassia in the Russian Federation. The body of the zither is constructed from larch and fir wood with 12 steel strings on the upper surface and 11 below. The bridges on the upper surface are made from sheep astragali. Each astragalus sits on a leather pad and they seem only to have been modified by drilling a hole to support a strip of longbone in a vertical position. The top of the bone strips have a small notch in which the strings are located.
Sonia O'Connor
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June 2013

Proximal half of a projectile foreshaft from Andernach-Martinsberg, Central Rhineland. Recent re-examination of the osseous material assemblage resulted in the discovery that the implement was, in fact, manufactured from cetacean bone (probably whale). Projectile elements made from this raw material have been identified in southern French Magdalenian assemblages but this is the first such object from southern Germany.

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Langley, Michelle C. & Street, Martin (2013): Long range inland-coastal networks during the Late Magdalenian: Evidence for individual acquisition of marine resources at Andernach-Martinsberg, German Central Rhineland. – Journal of Human Evolution 64(5), 457-465

May 2013

Beautifully carved bone object of unknown function found as a stray find on the banks of the river Weser in Rechtenfleth near Bremen. Comments are welcome. By courtesy of finder Gesine Springfeld, Bremen.

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