Bone tools

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Bone implements from Shkārat Msaied – a short summary

by Pia Wistoft Nielsen 

All together 308 bone implements have been found at Shkārat Msaied (excluding the finds from the 2014 and 2015 seasons which has not been analysed yet). Only a small amount of the bone implements have been found in a complete state of preservation. Most of the worked bone assemblage consists of bone implement fragments in various sizes. A high amount of the bone implements are also encrusted with calcium-carbonate salts which limits the information obtainable in regard to use-wear and the techniques applied in the production of the implements.

Most of the bone implements are various pointed implements (107 implements), and many of the pointed implements are made from metapodials and long bones, this is very common for many Neolithic sites in the region. Often either the proximal or distal epiphysis (ends of a bone) is kept as a handle or for a better grip. One of the pointed implements made from a metapodium, has been perforated near the tip of the implement. This is quite an unusual tool and might be related either to its use or for another specific purpose such as storage or transport (if a string was put through the perforated hole). A small needle (Length 53,90 mm) has also been found and this needle displays a perforation technique which has not been observed in the MPPNB in the southern part of the Levant before. Needles of Mureybet have previously been found only in the Southern Levant in LPPNB sites (Le Dosseur 2010), but Shkarat Msaied also produced Needles of Mureybet, maybe as one of the first to use this technique in the Southern part of the Levant in the MPPNB. 

The splitting of the bones, mainly long bones, was done with various techniques. There is evidence of the groove-and-splitter technique, but also more simple techniques seem to have been used, leaving the result of the splitting of the bone with uneven and not straight sides. One long (just over 18 cm) pointed implement made from a tibia from goat, has been split in such a way that almost the entire length of the tibia was kept.

All together 63 have been categorized as flat implements (Less than 5 mm thick and often elongated implements, mainly made from ribs). Many of the flat implement have also been perforated and the perforations in the flat implements display evidence of different boring techniques. Both hand-held borers and drilling-devices have been used in the perforation of the flat implements. The function of the perforation in the flat implements could be for many reasons and the limited information derived from use-wear analysis, does not give a clear picture. This is mainly due to poor preservation. From other Neolithic sites, use-wear analysis of perforated flat implements shows evidence of the implements having been used for sawing activities.

Bone as a raw material seems to have been preferred for a various set of tasks. Even though most of the bones implements found at Shkārat Msaied can be characterised as pointed or flat implements, other implements show a high degree of variation in size and shape; a small pounder-like implement (#121) and bevel-ended implements in various sizes and shapes are also present. 

Beads made from bones are also found in Shkarat Msaied, both tabular beads, which are made from long bones from smaller mammals like hare or foxes. The technique used to create these tabular beads is quite simple. The epiphyses were cut of at each end of the long bone and area where the bone was cut was then abraded to a smooth surface. One figurine made from a rib, probably from cattle was found in a bone bag. The figurine imitates a human being (Jensen et al. 2005). Also half a pendent like implement has been carved in a way that looks like a face of a human being. 

There is a tendency in the assemblage that the most of the implements is made from medium sized animals like goat or gazelle. This corresponds well with the unworked faunal material found at Shkarat Msaied, which is dominated by caprines and a smaller amount of gazelle. Most of the bones of the animals were used in the production of bone implements. There was a preference for ribs, especially for flat implements, and most of the pointed implements were made from long bones and tibia and metapodials were the most frequently used. However it will have to be taken into consideration that due to the manufacture and use of the bone implements it is often impossible to differentiate between the various anatomical parts of the bones and species. 

It has been possible to locate the find context of 210 of the 308 bone implements. More than 75 % of the bone implements have been found in the southern part of the site. 60 of the bone implements are found in unit P this unit also contain a high amount of other finds like ground stone tools (Harpelund 2011) and molluscs (Abu-Laban 2010). Until now the context analysis does not show any specific patterns of a distribution which can be related to types or function of the implements. Also it has not been possible with the results obtained until now to find evidence for workshops, neither for the production of bone implements or other workshops which would have involved tools made from bone. An analysis of the fragmentation pattern might provide evidence for where the production took place and to what extent the bones from animals were used as part of the daily life in the MPPNB. 


Abu Laban, A 2010, Exchange systems in Levantine Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B societies – An analysis and reconstruction of the use of mollusc shells from the Southern Jordanian site Shkarat Msaied. Unpublished Master Thesis, Carsten Niebuhr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen.

Le Dosseur, G.  2010, Migrations and Intercultural Relations in the Levant during PPNB Bulletin du Centre de recherche français à Jérusalem n°21, année 2010 (1-10)

Jensen, C. H., Hermansen, B. D., Kinzel, M., Hald M. M., Bangsgaard, P., Petersen M. B., Lynnerup, N. & Thuesen, I. 2005,  Preliminary report on the excavations at Shakārat al-Musay'īd, 1999-2004. Annual of the Department of Antiquities in Jordan 49, 2005: pp 115-134

Harpelund, A. M. 2011, An analysis of the ground stone assemblage from the Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B site Shkarat Msaied in Southern Jordan. Unpublished Master Thesis, Carsten Niebuhr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen.

[posted October7th, 2015]