Bone, Antler, and Tooth Artifacts

The study of prehistoric bone, antler, and tooth artifacts has received relatively little attention by archaeologists. Despite this fact, it is clear that bone was a readily available and highly useful raw material for prehistoric people. Osseous materials served a wide range of purposes and were made into spear, arrow, and harpoon points; fishhooks; weaving tools; hammers and flakers for making stone tools; hide scrapers; pottery-making tools; combs; pendants; rings; hairpins; clothes fasteners; gaming pieces; musical instruments; animal effigies; and various ceremonial objects.

The study of bone artifacts allows researchers to very accurately recreate the manufacturing processes involved through analysis of macro- and microscopic tool marks on the artifacts, discarded offcuts and unfinished pieces, ethnographic analogy, and experimental replication. Use is somewhat less clearly identifiable, but much progress has been made through the application of the same techniques. Scanning electron micrography (see Selected Publications) is an extremely important tool for the study of bone artifacts, allowing detailed documentation of microscopic manufacturing and use-wear traces on both prehistoric and experimentally replicated tools.

Click to return to Sandi Olsen's research page 


An ornately incised horse phalanx from Botai, a large eneolithic settlement in north-central Kazakhstan. These artifacts have been referred to as female figurines and gaming pieces, but their true function remains unknown.