Use-trace studies on bone tools from the South African Later Stone Age and Early Iron Age: changes and continuities
by Justin Bradfield
University of the Witwatersrand, Evolutionary Studies Institute
Stone Age societies are understood largely in terms of their technology. The way in which we frame our research and understanding of these past societies is based almost exclusively on stone tools and ceramics, yet these materials represent only a small percentage of recent hunter-gatherer paraphernalia and may not necessarily reflect the complexity of cultural adaptations and technological achievements of the past. Unless all aspects of past technological systems are acknowledged and understood we risk providing a distorted image of the past. In this talk I explore the variable and diverse functions of pointed bone artefacts in southern Africa during the LSA and EIA from approximately 18 000 years ago until a few hundred years ago when the hunter-gatherer societies practicing a stone age economy came under the influence of immigrant Iron Age farmers. I present the results of three use-trace analyses (micro-residue, use-wear and macrofracture), each designed to provide complementary information about the past function/s of pointed bone tools. Evidence presented shows that while manufacturing techniques remain relatively constant throughout the last 18 000 years, greater functional variability among bone points is evident during the last 6000 years and largely parallels the sustained focus on hunting smaller animals. Changes in bone tool form and function do not correlate neatly with lithic technology oscillations or environmental fluctuations and seem to occur during rather than at the boundaries of stone tool technocomplexes. A comprehensive study of bone tools has the potential to provide information about past societies that is simply not available from stone tools and ceramics.
4 May 2016
Venue: Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Humanities Building, 8-18| Hatfield Campus