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How to make and use a bone “spatula”. An experimental program based on the Mesolithic osseous assemblage of Galgenbühel/Dos de la Forca (Salurn/Salorno, BZ, Italy)

Arrighi, Simona, Bazzanella, Marta, Boschin, Francesco, Wierer, Ursula
Quaternary international 2016 v.423 pp. 143-165
Betula, Cervus elaphus, bark, equipment, fish, manufacturing, sewing, wetlands, Italy
This paper focuses on the techno-functional study of a tool with a smooth end, typologically classifiable as spatula, made from a red deer metatarsal recovered at the early Mesolithic rock-shelter Galgenbühel/Dos de la Forca. The site is located in the middle Adige Valley at Salurn/Salorno (South Tyrol – Northern Italy) and was dwelled by Sauveterrian hunter-gatherer-fisher-communities from the mid-9th to the mid-8th millennium cal. BC. Subsistence was based on the exploitation of wetland and valley bottom resources including an intense and at times specialized fishing activity. The identification of a probable harpoon fragment among the few but well preserved bone and antler artefacts detected at the site could in fact be part of fishing equipment. The main goal of this study was to recognize the specific use of the tool with a smooth end by means of use-wear analysis. It is quite difficult, indeed, to establish a specific function for this kind of tools as their morphological characters make them suitable for various tasks. A dedicated experimental program was developed to this scope, which involved manufacture and use of spatula replicas for different activities: fish scaling, beading fish heads, working tanned skin, net making, sewing reeds and working birch bark. The implementation of the experimental activity was also aimed at testing tool functionality in the course of the various tasks.The comparison between archaeological and experimental use-wear seems to indicate that the bone tool from Galgenbühel was used as a needle for working vegetal material. On the other hand our experiments revealed a high functionality of this kind of tool also in beading fish heads, working tanned hide and bending birch bark.