A Middle Palaeolithic Bone Tool from Crimea (Ukraine)

By Burke, Ariane; d'Errico, Francesco | Antiquity, December 2008 | Go to article overview

A Middle Palaeolithic Bone Tool from Crimea (Ukraine)


Burke, Ariane, d'Errico, Francesco, Antiquity


A fragment of equid tibia found with a Mousterian assemblage in a rockshelter in the Crimean peninsula is carefully examined. The authors show that it has been knapped like flint to produce a tool probably at a time when stone resources were becoming exhausted. This tool is thus the product of a Neanderthal response to a local need as well as proof that the technological properties of bone were known.

Keywords: Ukraine, Middle Palaeolithic, equid, bone tool

Introduction

For much of the twentieth century, the prevailing view among archaeologists was that Anatomically Modern Humans (AMHs) associated with Upper Palaeolithic (UP) and Late Stone Age (LSA) cultures could be considered behaviourally modern, whereas archaic Homo sapiens and Neanderthal populations, associated with Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Middle Palaeolithic (MP) cultures, could not. The replacement of archaic Homo sapiens and Neanderthal populations by AMHs could therefore be explained on the basis of the superiority of their cultural adaptations. The production of bone tools is a technological innovation traditionally associated with the Upper Palaeolithic, introduced to Europe c. 40 000 years ago by AMHs bearing an Aurignacian culture (Stringer & Gamble 1993; Mellars 1996; Noble & Davidson 1996). As such, bone-working is considered one of the hallmarks of the 'modernity' of UP and LSA cultures. The re-analysis of a number of purported bone artefacts from several Lower and Middle Palaeolithic sites in Europe resulted in their reclassification as pseudo-tools (d'Errico & Villa 1997; Villa & d'Errico 2001) and appeared to corroborate the evidence linking bone tool-making with 'modern' behaviour.

The notion that Neanderthals and pre-modern humans were unable to perceive the useful properties of bone as a raw material (Klein 1994) can be rejected on the basis of evidence for the presence of worked bone implements during the MSA and in late MP sites, however. Indeed, the perception that bone was not worked during the Eurasian Middle Palaeolithic or Middle Stone Age of Africa has received several challenges in the past few decades. Re-analyses of bone artefacts from South and East Africa show that early hominids used bone implements as early as the Early Stone Age, in some cases purposely modifying a variety of bone blanks by knapping and/or grinding (Backwell & d'Errico 2001; 2004; d'Errico & Backwell 2003), confirming earlier research (Leakey 1971; Shipman 1984; 1989; Brain & Shipman 1993). It seems plausible to suggest that butchering activities such as marrow extraction sensitised hominids to the physical properties that make bone workable (Henshilwood & Marean 2003). The well-documented use of bone retouchers during the MSA/MP (Chase 1990; Armand & Delagnes 1998; Henshilwood et al. 2002; Patou-Mathis 2002; d'Errico & Backwell 2003) would have provided tool-makers with ample opportunities to observe the technical properties of bone.

In addition to evidence for the production of formal bone tools during the MSA (reviewed in d'Errico & Backwell 2003) new discoveries, including spear points from South Africa, demonstrate that complex bone technologies had been developed there by 75 000 years ago (Henshilwood et al. 2002; d'Errico & Henshilwood 2007; Backwell et al. 2008). The techniques used in the creation of these tools, including grinding and polishing, were specifically developed for modifying bone rather than simply borrowed from flint knapping. It is interesting to note, therefore, that formal bone tools are better documented for the MSA than the MP (Henshilwood & Marean 2003: 630; d'Errico & Henshilwood 2007). The most common use of bone during the MP in Eurasia, prior to the probable date of appearance of AMHs on the continent, is the use of long-bone shaft fragments to retouch lithic tools, although knapped bone tools were occasionally produced (Backwell & d'Errico 2004). …

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A Middle Palaeolithic Bone Tool from Crimea (Ukraine)
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