Bone tool

In archaeology, a bone tool is a tool created from bone. A bone tool can conceivably be created from almost any bone, and in a variety of methods.

Bone tools have been documented from the advent of Homo sapiens and are also known from Homo neanderthalensis contexts or even earlier. Bone has been used for making tools by virtually all hunter-gatherer societies, even when other materials were readily available. Any part of the skeleton can potentially be utilized; however, antlers and long bones provide some of the best working material. Long bone fragments can be shaped, by scraping against an abrasive stone, into such items as arrow and spear points, needles, awls, and fish hooks.

Bone tools had mainly been made from bone splinters or were cut into a useful shape. Archaeologists are convinced that bone tools were purposefully made by deer antlers cut into shape.[1]

The bone was fashioned into tools such as spoons, knives, awls, pins, fish hooks, needles, flakers, hide scrapers and beamers. They made musical rasps, flutes and whistles as well as toys of bone. Decoratively carved articles were also made of bone such as hair combs, hair pins and pendants. Antler is much harder than bone and was used for flakers, points, knives and hair combs. Even the teeth and hooves did not go to waste. The teeth were drilled and used for decoration on clothing and necklaces. The hooves were also drilled and used for decoration on clothing as well as strung for rattles and bells.[2]

As an organic material, bone often does not survive in a way that is archaeologically recoverable. However, under the right conditions, bone tools do sometimes survive and many have been recovered from locations around the world representing time periods throughout history and prehistory. Also many examples have been collected ethnographically, and some traditional peoples, as well as experimental archaeologists, continue to use bone to make tools.


The oldest excavated bone tools are from Africa, dated to about 1.5 million years ago.[3] It is widely accepted that they appeared and developed in Africa before any other geographic region. A very famous excavation of bone tools is that of the Blombos Cave in South Africa. A collection of twenty-eight bone tools were recovered from 70 thousand year old Middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave. Careful analyses of these tools reveal that formal production methods were used to create awls and projectile points.[4]

Bone tools have been discovered in the context of Neanderthal groups as well as throughout the development of anatomically modern humans. Archaeologists have long believed that Neanderthals learned how to make bone tools from modern humans and by mimicking stone tools, viewing bone as simply another raw material. Modern humans, on the other hand, took advantage of the properties of bone and worked them into specific shapes and tools.

A recent discovery of specialized bone tools at two Neanderthal sites in southwestern France brings to light the idea that Neanderthals may have actually taught modern humans how to make specialized bone tools. The uncovering of lissoirs ("polishing stones") at these sites is significant as they are about 51,000 years old, predating the known arrival of modern humans to Europe.[5]

Prior to the Industrial Revolution (when machine mass production of sharp tools became viable), many everyday tools such as needles were made from bone; such items continue to be valued today as antiques. Bone folders are still used by bookbinders.



An awl is as a long, pointed spike generally used for piercing or marking materials such as wood or leather. Bone awls are pointed tips made on any bone splinter. Bone awls vary considerably in the amount of polish from wear, the method of preparation, and size. Bone awls tend to be classified according to the characteristics of the bone used to make the awl. Many bone awls that retain an epiphysis, or rounded end of a bone. Although authors have differing theories as to the uses of bone awls, the two main uses agreed upon are as manipulators in the making of basketry and as perforators in the working of hide.[6]

Spear points and bipoints

Bone spear points and bipoints have been found throughout the world. A mastodon rib bone found in Washington State was discovered in the 1970s with a broken bone projectile point stuck in it. Recent radiocarbon dating reveals that it is about 14,000 years old. This discovery is significant because it predates the arrival of the Clovis people, and may help rewrite human history in the Americas.[7]


Hoes fashioned from bison scapula were common cultivating tools among the Plains Village Indians. In particular, it was used for cultivating small garden crops. It continued to be used among these Indians until iron hoes were brought by French traders in the 18th century. Recovered bone hoes range from 40 cm to as small as 15 cm. The size variation is due, in large part, to frequent resharpening.[8]

Musical instruments

A number of different musical instruments have been created from bone. A vulture-bone flute discovered in Europe is currently considered the world's oldest musical instrument. At about 40,000 years old, the instrument dates to the time that modern humans were settling in the area. Researchers argue that musical instruments such as this flute helped modern humans form tighter social bonds, giving them an advantage over their Neanderthal counterparts.[9]

In addition, bones consist of a pair of animal bones that are played by clacking the bones together. As a musical instrument, they have a history that dates to ancient China, Egypt and Greece.

Other types

  • Harpoons and fishhooks
  • Sickles
  • Knives
  • Daggers[10]
  • Pin-like tools
  • Smoothers
  • Quill flatteners
  • Arrow-shaft wrenches
  • Fleshers
  • Hide grainers
  • Beads
  • Needles

See also


  1. ^ Wymer, John (1982). The Paleolithic Age. Croom Helm. ISBN 9780709927105.
  2. ^ Nelson, Susan K. (2009). "Deer Bone Tools" (PDF). Deer Bone Tools.
  3. ^ "Early humans make bone tools". Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins Program.
  4. ^ Henshilwood, Christopher S.; D'errico, Francesco; Marean, Curtis W.; Milo, Richard G.; Yates, Royden (2001). "An early bone tool industry from the Middle Stone Age at Blombos Cave, South Africa: implications for the origins of modern human behaviour, symbolism and language". Journal of Human Evolution. 41 (6): 631–678. doi:10.1006/jhev.2001.0515. PMID 11782112.
  5. ^ Soressi, Marie; McPherron, Shannon P.; Lenoir, M.; Dogandzic, T.; Goldberg, P.; Jacobs, Z.; Maigrot, Y.; Martisius, N. L.; Miller, C. E.; Rendu, W.; Richards, M.; Skinner, M. M.; Steele, T. E.; Talamo, S.; Texier, J.-P.; et al. (2013). "Neanderthals made the first specialized bone tools in Europe". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 110 (35): 14186–90. Bibcode:2013PNAS..11014186S. doi:10.1073/pnas.1302730110. PMC 3761603. PMID 23940333.
  6. ^ Buc, Natacha; Loponte, Daniel (2007). "Bone tool types and microwear patterns: Some examples from the Pampa region, South America". Methods and Interpretations in Worked Bone. pp. 143–157.
  7. ^ Handwerk, Brian (2011). "Bone Deep". National Geographic Daily News.
  8. ^ "Bison Scapula Hoes". OK Artifacts. Archived from the original on 2013-05-25. Retrieved 2013-11-15.
  9. ^ Owen, James (2009). "Bone Flute Is Oldest Instrument, Study Says". National Geographic News.
  10. ^ Dvorsky, George (24 April 2018). "Why Papuan Men Made Daggers From Human Thigh Bones". Gizmodo. Retrieved 25 April 2018.

Further reading

  • Backwell, L.; Errico, F. (2004). "The first use of bone tools: a reappraisal of the evidence from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania". Palaeontologia africana. 40: 89–152.
  • Baffier, D. & Julien, M. (1990). "L'outillage en os des niveaux châtelperroniens d'Arcy-sur-Cure (Yonne)", in: Paléolithique moyen récent et Paléolithique supérieur ancien en Europe, Colloque international de Nemours (9-11 mai 1988), Mémoires du Musée de Préhistoire d'Ile-de-France, 3, 329-334.
  • d'Errico, F.; Backwell, L. (2003). "Possible evidence of bone tool shaping by Swartkrans early hominids". Journal of Archaeological Science. 30 (12): 1559–1576. doi:10.1016/s0305-4403(03)00052-9.
  • d'Errico, F.; Henshilwood, C.S. (2007). "Additional evidence for bone technology in the southern African Middle Stone Age". Journal of Human Evolution. 52 (2): 142–163. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2006.08.003. PMID 16996574.
  • d'Errico, F.; Zilhão, J.; Baffier, D.; Julien; Pelegrin, J. (1998). "Neanderthal acculturation in Western Europe? A critical review of the evidence and its interpretation". Current Anthropology. 39: 1–44. doi:10.1086/204689.
Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.


A cist ( or ; also kist ;

from Greek: κίστη or Germanic Kiste) is a small stone-built coffin-like box or ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead. Examples can be found across Europe and in the Middle East.

A cist may have been associated with other monuments, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow. Several cists are sometimes found close together within the same cairn or barrow. Often ornaments have been found within an excavated cist, indicating the wealth or prominence of the interred individual.

This old word is preserved in the Swedish language, where "kista" is the word for a funerary coffin.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Eden point

Eden Points are a form of chipped stone projectile points associated with a sub-group of the larger Plano culture. Sometimes also called Yuma points, the first Eden points were discovered in washouts in Yuma County, Colorado. They were first discovered in situ at an ancient buffalo kill site near Eden, Wyoming by Harold J. Cook in 1941. The site, named after discoverer O. M. Finley, eventually yielded 24 projectile points, including eight Eden points, eight Scottsbluff points and one complete Cody point, both other sub-groups within the Plano group. Eden points are believed to have been used between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago by paleo-indian hunters in the western plains.

Eden points are the most common paleo-indian projectile points found today. They have been discovered across the western plain states, including Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Montana.

Folsom point

Folsom points are a distinct form of knapped stone projectile points associated with the Folsom tradition of North America. The style of tool-making was named after the Folsom Site located in Folsom, New Mexico, where the first sample was found by George McJunkin within the bone structure of a bison in 1908. The Folsom point was identified as a unique style of projectile point in 1926.

Grattoir de côté

A Grattoir de côté (translates from French as Side Scraper) is an archaeological term for a ridged variety of steep-scrapers distinguished by a working edge on one side. They were found at various archaeological sites in Lebanon including Ain Cheikh and Jdeideh II and are suggested to date to Upper Paleolithic stages three or four (Antelian).

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.

Ishango bone

The Ishango bone is a bone tool, dated to the Upper Paleolithic era. It is a dark brown length of bone, the fibula of a baboon, with a sharp piece of quartz affixed to one end, perhaps for engraving. It was first thought to be a tally stick, as it has a series of what has been interpreted as tally marks carved in three columns running the length of the tool, though it has also been suggested that the scratches might have been to create a better grip on the handle or for some other non-mathematical reason.The Ishango bone was found in 1960 by Belgian Jean de Heinzelin de Braucourt while exploring what was then the Belgian Congo. It was discovered in the area of Ishango near the Semliki River. Lake Edward empties into the Semliki which forms part of the headwaters of the Nile River (now on the border between modern-day Uganda and D.R. Congo). The bone was found among the remains of a small community that fished and gathered in this area of Africa. The settlement had been buried in a volcanic eruption.The artifact was first estimated to have originated between 9,000 BC and 6,500 BC.

However, the dating of the site where it was discovered was re-evaluated, and it is now believed to be more than 20,000 years old (between 18,000 BC and 20,000 BC).The Ishango bone is on permanent exhibition at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium.

Lamoka projectile point

Lamoka projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States, generally in the time interval of 3500-2500 B.C. They predate the invention of the bow and arrow, and are therefore not true "arrowheads", but rather atlatl dart points. They derive their name from the specimens found at the Lamoka site in Schuyler County, New York.

Lebombo bone

The Lebombo bone is a bone tool made of a baboon fibula with incised markings discovered in the Lebombo Mountains located between South Africa and Swaziland. Changes in the section of the notches indicate the use of different cutting edges, which the bone's discoverer, Peter Beaumont, views as evidence for their having been made, like other markings found all over the world, during participation in rituals.

The bone is between 44,200 and 43,000 years old, according to 24 radiocarbon datings. This is far older than the Ishango bone with which it is sometimes confused. Other notched bones are 80,000 years old but it is unclear if the notches are merely decorative or if they

bear a functional meaning.According to The Universal Book of Mathematics the Lebombo bone's 29 notches suggest "it may have been used as a lunar phase counter, in which case African women may have been the first mathematicians, because keeping track of menstrual cycles requires a lunar calendar". However, the bone is clearly broken at one end, so the 29 notches may or may not be a minimum number. In the cases of other notched bones since found globally, there has been no consistent notch tally, many being in the 1–10 range.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Plano point

In archeology, Plano point is flaked stone projectile points and tools created by the various Plano cultures of the North American Great Plains between 9000 BC and 6000 BC for hunting, and possibly to kill other humans.

They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

Stone row

A stone row (or stone alignment), is a linear arrangement of upright, parallel megalithic standing stones set at intervals along a common axis or series of axes, usually dating from the later Neolithic or Bronze Age. Rows may be individual or grouped, and three or more stones aligned can constitute a stone row.

Tally stick

A tally stick (or simply tally) was an ancient memory aid device used to record and document numbers, quantities, or even messages. Tally sticks first appear as animal bones carved with notches during the Upper Paleolithic; a notable example is the Ishango Bone. Historical reference is made by Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79) about the best wood to use for tallies, and by Marco Polo (1254–1324) who mentions the use of the tally in China. Tallies have been used for numerous purposes such as messaging and scheduling, and especially in financial and legal transactions, to the point of being currency.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.


In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.

Yubetsu technique

The Yubetsu technique (湧別技法, Yūbetsu gihō) is a special technique to make microblades, proposed by Japanese scholar Yoshizaki in 1961, based on his finds in some Upper Palaeolithic sites in Hokkaido, Japan, which date from c. 13,000 bp.

The name comes from the Yūbetsu River (湧別川, Yubetsugawa), on the right bank of which the Shirataki (白滝遺跡, Shirataki Iseki) Palaeolithic sites were discovered.

To make microblades by this technique, a large biface is made into a core which looks like a tall carinated scraper. Then one lateral edge of the bifacial core is removed, producing at first a triangular spall. After, more edge removals will produce ski spalls of parallel surfaces.

This technique was also used from Mongolia to Kamchatka Peninsula during the later Pleistocene.

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