Publication Date

Summer 7-1-2011


Perishable technologies \u2013 objects made from soft, organic materials that often decay quickly in the archaeological record \u2013 are known to be both ubiquitous and abundant in contemporary and historic societies, regardless of variation in social and economic organization or local environment. They are commonly made by women, children and elders, members of society that are often underrepresented in reconstructions of the past. However, their perishable nature means that these objects are recovered from the archaeological record at low rates, relative to that of more durable materials. Consequently, most evidence for these technologies is indirect. Use wear on the surface of bone tools provides indirect evidence of perishable materials, as these tools are frequently used in the manufacture of basketry, nets, mats, webbing, and woven fabrics and in the joining of perishable elements to make more complex objects, such as clothing, bags, or structural elements. This dissertation focuses on identifying differences between use wear from plant and animal fibers on bone tools, using a methodologically innovative multi-scalar approach. Analysis is organized at the scale of the working surface and assessed with a predictive tribological model that uses the known properties of different fibers to understand the accumulation of diagnostic attrition. Three kinds of worked bone surfaces are analyzed: experimental, ethnographic and archaeological. While experimentation is standard for use wear analysis, the introduction of systematic, comprehensive, microscopic study of a broad ethnographic sample is significant. Ethnographic and experimental samples demonstrate that function cannot be identified by artifact form and that tribological predictions are a powerful means for identifying wear diagnostic of plant and animal fibers. An archaeological case study from three Magdalenian and Azilian sites in Northern Spain \u2013 Entrefoces, El Perro, El Juyo \u2013 is presented. Analysis of use wear on osseous artifacts from these sites indicates that both plant and animal fibers were manipulated, a significant result, as evidence for the use of plant fibers at these sites is otherwise absent. This evidence is important for understanding the labor of Late Upper Paleolithic individuals beyond large game hunting and suggests some activities that may have been carried out by women, children and elders.

Project Sponsors

National Science Foundation

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Boone, James

Second Committee Member

Choyke, Alice M.

Third Committee Member

Adovasio, James M.

Included in

Anthropology Commons