Pointed bone tool technology in southern Africa: results of use-trace analyses


  • J. Bradfield University of Johannesburg


Bone tools represent an important but often understudied aspect of past material culture. Apart from some notable exceptions, bone tool studies are still dominated by typological descriptions. This paper reviews the history and current state of bone tool functional studies in southern Africa. I present the results of use-trace analyses of 378 bone points from 12 archaeological sites spanning the last 18 000 years. The results suggest that manufacturing techniques remained unchanged for most of the time span considered. Damage on the distal ends indicates that not all bone arrow points were pointed, but that some arrows may have included a metal or stone tip. On certain specimens, use-wear and residue remains suggest that at least some bone points (morphologically identical to San bone arrow components) may have been used to process plant material. Whether they were used solely for this purpose or as multi-functional tools is uncertain. The most variability in use-trace indicators on bone points occurs during the Wilton, particularly after 4000 BP. Such changes in bone point form and function do not correlate neatly with lithic technological oscillations. It is not certain to what extent this pattern is a reflection of taphonomic conditions.



How to Cite

Bradfield, J. (2015). Pointed bone tool technology in southern Africa: results of use-trace analyses. Southern African Humanities, 27, 1–27. Retrieved from https://sahumanities.org/index.php/sah/article/view/339