Macrofractures on Bone-Tipped Arrows: Analysis of Hunter-Gatherer Arrows in the Fourie Collection from Namibia

By Bradfield, Justin | Antiquity, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Macrofractures on Bone-Tipped Arrows: Analysis of Hunter-Gatherer Arrows in the Fourie Collection from Namibia


Bradfield, Justin, Antiquity


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Introduction

The origin of projectile technology is a hotly debated topic (see Knecht 1997; Brooks et al. 2006; Shea 2006; Villa & Lenoir 2006; Backwell et al. 2008; Lombard & Parsons 2008; Sisk & Shea 2009; Villa et al. 2009; Waguespack et al. 2009; Lombard & Phillipson 2010; Yaroshevich et al. 2010). One way to assess the probable function of an ancient tool is through use-wear. An aspect of use-wear that has been frequently used in stone tool studies to determine the likely function of these tools is a branch of fracture mechanics known as macrofracture analysis (e.g. Fischer et al. 1984; Odell & Cowan 1986; Lombard 2005, 2007; Lombard & Pargeter 2008). Although experimental use-wear studies have been conducted on bone points (Tyzzer 1936; Guthrie 1983; Arndt & Newcomer 1986; Bergman 1987; Knecht 1997), they have failed to establish a rigorous analytical methodology capable of distinguishing hunting impact fractures and instead rely on morphological description.

Recently the argument was put forward that the bone point from Howiesons Poort levels at Sibudu Cave, South Africa, was probably used to tip a hunting weapon (Backwell et al. 2008). Given the rigid structure of bone, which has fracturing and chipping properties similar to stone (Guthrie 1983), a hunting experiment was conducted to test the strength of this argument (Bradfield & Lombard 2011). This experiment demonstrated that bone point hunting weapons develop the same macrofracture types as stone tipped-hunting weapons.

The aim of this paper is to document the type of macrofractures and the frequencies in which they occur in a sample of bone points of known function in an effort to further test the reliability of the method on bone tools. This paper analyses a museum collection of bone points collected in the 1920s. The macrofracture method is intended to provide an avenue of functional analysis that can be used in addition to other use-wear studies to assess the probable function of archaeological samples of bone points. This in turn has the potential to expand our understanding of the role of bone points in the earliest hunting weapons.

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The Fourie collection, currently housed in Museum Africa in Newtown, Johannesburg, is one of the largest collections of traditional hunter-gatherer paraphernalia in the world. The complete collection comprises over 4000 artefacts collected by Dr Louis Fourie between 1916 and 1928 (Fourie 1926, 1928; see also Wanless 2010), while he was serving as medical officer in the then Protectorate of South West Africa, now Namibia. The collection contains artefacts from 13 hunter-gatherer groups who were living in the Kaukau Veld, Ovamboland and Gobabis regions of the country (Figure 1). During his 12 years as medical officer Fourie systematically collected a wide array of artefacts which, for most of his life, remained in his personal collection. Among these artefacts are 1186 arrows, 104 of which are bone tipped.

Bone-tipped arrows are common in indigenous hunter-gatherer hunting kits (Schapera 1927; Goodwin 1945; Vinnicombe 1971; Clark 1977; J. Deacon 1992; Noli 1993; Hitchcock & Bleed 1997; Nelson 1997; Wanless 2007). These arrows are often of composite construction, consisting of a main shaft, link shaft and an arrowhead. Because the bone point was often poisoned, the link shaft component was made to be reversible. In other words, the hunter could detach it from the main shaft and position it so that the poisoned point would be sheathed inside the main shaft and only the base of the link shaft would be exposed (Figure 2).

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The Fourie collection consists of two types of bone points that are considered typical among hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari (Goodwin 1945; Clark 1977; J. Deacon 1992; Bartram 1997; Wanless 2007). The first, which corresponds to Clark's (1977) Type 3, is the reversible poisoned arrow described above. …

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