Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Daily life in the Stone Age

A biographical approach to stone and bone tools in the Rhine/Meuse delta from Late Mesolithic to Bronze Age

Annelou van Gijn

Short abstract

Ongoing research of flint, ground stone and bone/antler tools from the present-day Netherlands shows the changes and continuities in their biographies from Late Mesolithic to Bronze Age. By looking at technological systems through time in a holistic way, incorporating raw material, technological and microwear studies, we obtain empirical evidence for the various roles objects played in past societies. Over the years a corpus of knowledge about the use life of flint, ground stone and bone and antler tools from dozens of sites has been accumulated and research is ongoing. Some examples of results are given below.

The importance of bone and antler tools in Late Mesolithic technological systems

Bone and antler constitute very important raw materials to make tools of. In the Late Mesolithic sites of Hardinxveld Polderweg and De Bruin a large number of bone and antler tools were found, which turned out to have been used for hide processing, wood working, and plant based crafts.

Experiment with the use of a bone metapodial adze to make a dugout canoe of lime wood.

In the summer of 2015 experiments were carried out at the Horsterwold Experimental Centre to test the efficacy of bone and antler tools to make a dugout canoe. Especially the axes and adzes made of metapodia, hafted on a hooked shaft, turned out to be very effective and did the job three times as fast as flint tranchet axes.

Domestic tasks in Linear Bandkeramik settlements

Microwear analysis of flint and stone tools from several LBK sites from the Graetheide cluster (NL) has shed light on the various domestic activities carried out within these settlements. People were cleaning and currying skins, processing plants and producing wooden objects. They were also involved in agricultural activities like milling and harvesting of cereals. Spatial analysis of the microwear results suggests that there are some differences in the tasks carried out between individual houses, suggesting informal specialisation.

Some of the tools from the site of Elsloo displaying traces from contact with hide: a) a sickle insert secondarily used as hide scraper; b,c) hide scrapers; d) polish from contact with skin which was wrapped around the hafted part of a tool.

Some implements used in domestic context were subsequently ritualised. This was the case with the querns, made of sandstone and used to mill cereals. These were intentionally  broken and the fragments were rubbed with ochre before being deposited in graves or in pits adjacent to the houses.

Quern from the site of Geleen-Janskamperveld, broken and smeared with ochre.

The use of flint in the Bronze Age

It is often assumed that flint lost its significance when metals were introduced. Microwear research has shown, however, that small flakes were used for household tasks like bone and wood working and scrapers continued to be essential hide processing tools. Flint strike-a-lights are found both in settlements and in graves, being personal items that were used for a long time.

Not all flint artefacts were simple and crudely made. Some flint items were imported from southern Scandinavia and produced by highly skilled flintknappers. Not only were they made of exotic flint, displaying extensive craftsmanship, they were also not used “in the normal way”. For example, the Scandinavian daggers lacked use wear traces related to functional tasks, but instead were covered with a polish that was caused by frequent pulling in and out of a sheath made of bast. They clearly were not a regular multipurpose knife but instead fulfilled a social and ideological role in past society.

Two experimental daggers with different hafting arrangements and different types of sheaths, one of lime bark, modelled after the Őtzi find, the other made of cherry bark.