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Prehistoric string theory. How twisted fibres helped to shape the world

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The author reviews the role of string in early human communities, using prehistoric and ethnographic evidence. Fibres, rolled into string, offer a technical means of holding things together; but the process of manufacturing string itself inspired special roles and structures - which in turn held together the members of communities.
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Research
Prehistoric string theory. How twisted
fibres helped to shape the world
Karen Hardy
The author reviews the role of string in early human communities, using prehistoric and
ethnographic evidence. Fibres, rolled into string, offer a technical means of holding things together;
but the process of manufacturing string itself inspired special roles and structures - which in turn
held together the members of communities.
Keywords: prehistory, string, fibre, cord, technology, ethnology, bags
Introduction
‘The fabric of Dani material culture is fibre, plain or rolled into string. The womens skirts are
braided of fibre and tied with string; the girls’ skirts are held together with string; the women’s
carrying nets are of string; the men’s penis gourd is held on with string, the exchange system at the
core of the ceremonialism centres on knitted string bands and string nets. The Dani use no nails
or spikes. All construction is lashed together with vines gathered in the forests. ...TheDaniare
technically a Stone Age culture. Stone tools are important but in fact the Dani culture is based
on wood and string and could be called a String Culture(Heider 1970).
String, cordage, or something that ties things together is such a fundamental part of
everyday life that it is taken completely for granted. Cranes, bridges, shoe laces, any kind
of woven fabric, electricity cables, lines of all kinds, so many items essential to the modern
world depend on that long stuff that connects one thing to another. Such is the importance of
string to humans that the knowledge and use of string or something that ties things together
and makes interlaced materials is included in Brown’s (1991) list of cultural universals.
There is growing acknowledgement of the crucial importance of fibre technology in the past
(Good 2001; Warner & Bednarik 1996) while Adovasio et al. (2007) point out that where
these survive in archaeological contexts, fibre artefacts outnumber stone tools by a factor
of 20 to1. Finally, Barber describes it as ‘the unseen weapon that allowed the human race to
conquer the earth(Barber 1994). String is likely to have been as central to Palaeolithic and
Mesolithic life as it is today and it is probable that the use of string then may have been as
significant as it was to the Dani.
String can be made from animal sources including animal or human hair, hide, sinew
or gut as well as from plants (Figure 1). The intensive use of animal-based raw materials is
common for example among the south-central African people of the plains such as the San
(Lee 1979) and also at high latitudes where the availability of plants producing the right
BioArch, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5YW, UK (Email: karhardy@gmail.com)
Received: 14 March 2007; Revised: 6 August 2007; Accepted: 13 September 2007
antiquity 82 (2008): 271–280
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Prehistoric string theory. How twisted fibres helped to shape the world
Figure 1. Rope made of human hair. Kimberley
Region, north-west Western Australia, collected 1923–25
(ET87.13.34).
kind of fibre may be reduced (e.g. Garth
Taylor 1974) though even here plant fibres
were sometimes also used.
Use of plant fibres or sinews facilitated
two separate technological developments.
Firstly, it enhanced the development of
composite technology; that is anything that
is ‘made up of disparate or separate parts
or elements(Collins English Dictionary
1999). Glue, which was the only other
facilitator of early composite technology,
appears in the archaeological record, during
the Middle Pleistocene (Mazza et al. 2006).
Secondly, the development of technologies
such as looping and weaving enabled items
to be manufactured entirely from string to create the suite of artefacts such as bags (Figure 2)
and nets which in turn are likely to have revolutionised hunting, fishing and the collection
of small items (Barber 1994).
Figure 2. String bag (bilum). Province, Papua New
Guinea, collected 1967 (ET85.20.10).
The aim of this paper is to review
theevidencefortheearlyuseofplant
fibres in string-making. In addition, some
of the functional, social and economic
implications of string manufacture are
explored with the help of ethnographic
evidence.
Early evidence for string
Though actual fragments of string or
cordage are very rare in the Palaeolithic,
indirect evidence in the form of perforated
beads, fishing net weights and cord
impressed pottery occurs worldwide. This
suggests that the technology of string making is probably very old. Warner and Bednarik
(1996) claim the development of knotting began somewhere between 2.5 million and
250 000 years ago though manufactured string is not essential for knotting to take place,
as Ingold’s (2000) description of fastenings used by weaver birds demonstrates. Pendants
and beads must be tied or sewn somehow and the earliest indirect evidence for string may
lie here. Two perforated objects (a bone point and a wolf incisor) from Repolusth¨
ohle in
Austria and understood to date to around 300 000 years ago imply the earliest indirect
evidence for cordage or string (Bednarik 1995; Warner & Bednarik 1996). Bednarik
(1997; 2000) describes perforated ostrich eggshell beads that date to around 200 000 years
ago and highlights the presence of beads of great antiquity from many places across the
world. Vanhaeren et al. (2006) report on perforated shells dating to between 100 000 and
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125 000 BP. Though no use-wear was recorded, the authors are sufficiently confident to refer
to these items as beads. Henshilwood et al. (2004) report on a use-wear study on apparently
artificially perforated shells from the South African site of Blombos dated to between
75 000–80 000 BP which they believe constitute personal ornaments. They suggest that the
use-wear pattern ‘is consistent with friction from rubbing against thread, clothes, or other beads.
By at least 40 000 years ago, shell beads are present ‘in large numbersat the site of Ucagızlı
Cave in Turkey (Kuhn et al. 2001) and Ksar ’Akil in Lebanon, while ostrich shell beads are
found in numerous MSA sites in East Africa from 40 000 years ago (Ambrose 1998) and
earlier (Bednarik 2000). Several sites in India and Sri Lanka also retain indirect evidence for
string in the form of perforated ostrich shell beads. These include the 34 000 BP southern
Indian site of Jwalapuram (Mellars 2006), Batadombalena, Sri Lanka (28 500 BP) and Patne
(25 000 +
200 BP) (James & Petraglia 2005). If these early examples of perforated shells are
indeed personal ornamentation, they are likely to have been either attached to clothing or
strung as necklaces, bracelets or anklets. Fine thread is required to attach beads to clothing
and string of some sort is required to make necklaces or bracelets.
Further indirect evidence for the use of twisted fibres dating to around 27 000 BP comes
in the form of imprints of complex items of woven material. Adovasio et al. (1996); Soffer
(2004); Soffer et al. (2000); Barber (1994) record impressions in clay from ‘dressed’ figurines
and Soffer (2004) and Soffer et al. (2001) also include artefactual evidence such as eyed
needles from a similar date. While the specific plant type of the earliest finds of twisted
fibre cannot be identified as to species, the woven material on the ‘dressed’ figurines was
identified visually by Soffer (2004) as bast fibre. This suggests that by early in the thirtieth
millienium BP twisted fibre technology had not only been mastered, but that the fibres
were being used to create secondary items. The oldest actual pieces of twisted and plied
fibre are three fragments found at Ohalo II in Israel dating to 19000 BP (Nadel et al.1994).
More twisted fibre fragments come from Lascaux and date to 17 000 BP (Leroi Gourhan
1982). The Khartoum Mesolithic Sarurab 2 site dated to the tenth millennium BP includes
twine-impressed pottery and harpoons (Khabir 1987). Cord-impressed ware occurs in Japan
from 13 000 BP (Kharakwal et al. 2004) and in China from the site of Yuchanyan dated to
the early fourteenth millennium BP (Kuzmin 2006).
Thousands of fragments of twisted bast fibre rope and string and many fragments of
nets were found which date to the early part of the tenth millennium BP (Gramsch 1992).
In Europe, some of the earliest examples of twisted bast fibre come from Friesack in
Germany where both knotted and knotless netting (n˚
alebinding) are represented. Many
other Mesolithic sites in north-western Europe and Russia have produced twisted plant
fibre fragments (Hardy 2007a). Though the evidence is still scarce it appears that a range of
different basts were used to make fibres, though it is not clear whether these differences have
any significance. Ethnographic evidence (Sillitoe 1988) suggests the selection of specific
fibres for specific purposes on the basis of strength, colour and coarseness.
In addition to the finds of actual cordage, there is a range of secondary evidence from
Mesolithic sites in the form of nets, net sinkers, traps, harpoons, needles, or bodkins and
perforated shell beads (Albrethsen & Brinch Peterson 1976; Hardy in press a & b; Mellars
1987; Mordant & Mordant 1992; Soffer 2004) as well as indirect evidence such as fishbones
that demonstrate a catch-all method of fishing with nets (Parks & Barratt in press), and
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Prehistoric string theory. How twisted fibres helped to shape the world
evidence for carrying gear in the form of shell middens (e.g. Hardy & Wickham-Jones
in press; Mellars 1987), hazelnuts (Mithen 2000) and elm seeds (Grøn 1998). It is also
interesting to note that small pebbles sometimes described as net sinkers have been observed
ethnographically to be used as weft weights for weaving (Kent & Nelson 1976).
It is possible that in temperate northern Europe, both sinews and bast fibres were used to
make string, as among the Tlingit Indians (Emmons 1991). However, no animal-product
string survives, whereas direct evidence does exist for the use of twisted bast fibre. Though
the use of fibrous plants such as nettles to make string is well documented, no actual evidence
for this appears until much later.
Production method and use of string from twisted fibres:
ethnographic evidence
The use of tree bast to make string and clothing is widespread in the ethnographic record
and indeed bast fibre is still used widely today to manufacture cordage, from plants such as
jute, hemp and flax. Bast has been used continuously at least since the Mesolithic (Myking et
al. 2005). It has a wide range of uses: for example in Russia and Eastern Europe it was used
to make shoes well into the twentieth century, while the production of bark fibre clothing
continues in Southeast Asia (Howard 2006).
The manufacturing sequence of making string from bast fibre remains, even though it
is now industralised, in essence the same as when it was first developed. Steps required to
manufacture string from bast fibres and then to make woven or looped materials include:
1. Understanding the concept of fibres as a mechanism for attaching distinct objects.
2. Identification and selection of appropriate raw materials.
3. Extraction and preparation of fibres.
4. Joining and adding fibres through rolling or twisting to create extended lengths.
5. Adding in extra fibres in reverse twist to give extra strength (plying).
6. Weaving, looping and other complex technologies.
In the New Guinea highlands, where the people had a complex material culture based
primarily on plant resources (Hardy & Sillitoe 2003; Sillitoe 1988), the non-industrial
manufacture of string from bast was still going on recently (e.g. Hampton 1999; MacKenzie
1991; Sillitoe 1988). A total of 1035 plant species were known to be used in 1976, the
majority as components of material culture items, while 46 different plants were still being
used to make string (Paijmans 1976). Sometimes different types of string or cordage required
different plants; for example animal tethers used bigger, coarser fibres with thicker bunches
rolled together. Among the Wola, 11 trees were used; the fibres of many of these were of
different qualities (Sillitoe 1988).
The following description of bast fibre preparation is from the Telefol of highland Papua
New Guinea (MacKenzie 1991). Raw materials had to be collected, though sometimes they
were traded. Bark was stripped from the tree, normally by men. The bark was then softened
either by immersing in water or by gentle heating over a fire. This enabled the outer bark to
be peeled off, following which the bast was dried, possibly on a smoking rack. The sheets of
bast fibre were sun dried for a few days then stored in the rafters and smoked until they were
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Karen Hardy
dry, which took around one to two weeks. They could then be stored indefinitely. Before
actually working the fibres, they needed to be re-moistened. This was achieved in different
ways: they could be left outside overnight to absorb dew or be chewed by women. The
simplest form of string-making and the technique used among the women of highland New
Guinea was to roll two fibres together on the thigh and add new fibres in when these were
ending thus extending the length beyond the limit of one fibre. To re-ply, new fibre lengths
can be added in by twisting in the opposite direction, though the Telefol did not practice this.
Non-industrialised production of string from bast can be a long drawn-out process,
taking place over several weeks, with intermittent bursts of activity. However, the actual
rolling of the string is a labour-intensive process. Until the invention of the spindle, for
which the earliest current evidence is in the Neolithic (Barber 1994), the only way to create
twisted fibre string was by rolling on a part of the body, normally the thigh, or twisting
between the fingers. MacKenzie (1991) estimated that it took between 60–80 hours to roll
enough string to manufacture one string bag, while looping the string to make the bag
took another 100-160 hours. Sillitoe (1988) records the time invested by women in string-
making as almost 50 per cent of their manufacturing time, while looping string took a further
35 per cent, making a total of around 85 per cent of womens manufacturing time devoted to
string. In Papua New Guinea, string-making and looping were an intrinsic part of womens
lives, ‘no matter where a Telefolmin woman might be, whether sitting or walking, her hands
are rarely idle, her fingers are perpetually working in the continuous tasks of spinning fibres and
looping bilums(MacKenzie 1991).
Telefol women learn string-making and looping at a very early age through the
unconscious copying described by Ingold (2000) as the co-ordination of perception and
action. Ingold (2000) explains that the Telefol looping skills are learned as the girls’ bodies
Figure 3. Child knitting, Shetland 1936-42.
are growing so that their movements
become an innate part of them. Minar
(2001) describes the learning process as
an imitation of the actions involved rather
than a focus on the end product, and
suggests that this may be a reason why
the technology is so consistent. As the
learning process becomes physiologically
entrenched it becomes difficult to change;
indeed to alter it would require the user to
switch from an automatic to a conscious
level of action. We see the same kind of
early initiation in other cultures, such as
the British northern isles (Figure 3).
When learned in this way, string-making
and working with string become automatic
repetitive activities for practitioners who are
able to work while going about other activities such as walking (Figure 4). Even where string-
rolling required the makers to be sitting still, they were still able to take care of children,
talk and manage their surroundings (e.g. Sillitoe 1988).
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Prehistoric string theory. How twisted fibres helped to shape the world
Figure 4. Women with kishies of peat, knitting, Shetland
1910-14.
Recent studies of multi-tasking suggest
that this is only truly successful, at every
level of brain activity, when the tasks
have become automatic, or not requiring
conscious thought (Pashler 2000; Ruthruff
et al. 2003). It is perhaps because string-
making, looping, knotting and knitting
could be carried out simultaneously
alongside other tasks that this technology,
even though it is very time consuming, was
so successful.
Social implications of
ethnography
In highland New Guinea, women are
closely linked to string manufacture.
Among the Telefol, for example, though
small boys play with fibres while around
their mother, they are soon taken off to
learn new things and forget how to make
string, though one male string-maker was recorded by MacKenzie (1991). Among the Wola,
it is almost always women who make the string (Sillitoe 1988). But Heider and Gardner
(1974) report that among the Dani, also of highland PNG, men will sit and make string and
net their own bags, though Heider (1970) explains elsewhere that it is women who make the
string. Among the Kogi of Colombia both men and women spin and the direction of the
twist is gender specific with men twisting to the left, from the knee to the body and women
twisting right, from the body to the knee (Minar 2001), while Costin (1996) highlights
manufacture of rope and cordage by both men and women.
More indirect evidence may be provided by the historical record, which demonstrates
that women across Europe worked and often still work with their hands doing automatic
repetitive tasks with thread, wool or fibres. Examples include knitters from British islands,
Flemish lace makers, Romanian spinners and Bulgarian knitters. The geographically wide
survival of n˚
alebinding (knotless knitting or needle binding) in remote parts of Central
Asia, northern Scandinavia and New Guinea (Decker 2000), where it is employed almost
exclusively by women may provide further evidence (for exceptions see Decker 2000).
Kimura (1996) speculates that the fact that women have better fine motor, spatial location
and object memory skills may have developed out of an early focus on plant detection
though arguments exist which contradict this (Liebenberg 2002).
Whoever made and used the string or cord, prehistoric people risked their lives on the
strength of it. In his description of the construction of an ocean-going canoe Malinowski
(1922) shows that the most important magic was reserved for the lashing, as it was recognised
that this alone maintained the cohesion of all the parts and kept the canoe together. Other
examples of confidence in string include the use of ropes to descend cliffs to collect seabirds
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Karen Hardy
in St Kilda (Steel 1994) and use of seal-hide thongs in Tierra del Fuego to descend cliffs to
catch sleeping birds (Bridges 1951).
Discussion
Evidence for the extensive use of string in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic, the time-
consuming nature of string manufacture and the ongoing demand suggest that string
production will have had a significant impact on prehistoric lives. The long drawn-out bast
preparation time (up to 2 weeks, Mackenzie 1991; Sillitoe 1988), the need to have raw
materials in a movable condition and a sufficient quantity of string always available will
have been an important variable in the lives of mobile prehistoric communities. Though
movement has largely been defined by archaeologists on the basis of availability of food
resources, the reality is likely to have been more complex; work in Patagonia for example has
demonstrated that movement is as likely to occur for social reasons or other non-food related
issues such as, for example, because all the firewood nearby has been used up (Jordi Estevez
pers. comm.). In an environment like Mesolithic Northern Europe, with a rich resource base
(Hardy 2007b), it is far more likely that choices were made on many criteria not only the
availability of food.
Apart from a few exceptions (e.g. Clark 1976; Zvelebil 1994) plants have largely been
left out of attempts to understand Palaeolithic and Mesolithic life, both in terms of diet and
as components of material culture, even though ethnographic information has repeatedly
demonstrated that indigenous knowledge of plants and their use is extensive everywhere.
Finds of twisted fibres from Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites are unlikely ever to be numerous.
However, the small numbers of finds that exist are widespread and provide glimpses into
complicated technologies and secondary level manufacture in the form of looping. The
range of contexts where these items have been found suggests the use of twisted fibres to
make clothes, nets and rope. With such a range of items dependent on twisted fibre and
looping, the time-investment in manufacture may have been on a scale not dissimilar to
highland Papua New Guinea. Production of twisted fibres and manipulation of these to
create artefacts is likely to have been a preoccupation of prehistoric people almost everywhere,
as the manufacturing group would have been perpetually tied to this production. However,
the need for string, and the early learning mechanism which created exclusivity, gave the
masters of this craft a certain amount of power. ‘Men sometimes tell us to put our bilums
away and cook food, or they talk cross because we are sitting making bilums, not working in the
garden. But. . . we tell them, “Making bilums is number one work. We can’t go to the garden if
we haven’t got a bilum to fill up”’ [A bilum is a string bag] (Makenzie 1991).
Plants are centrally important to most human groups across the world today in both
industrialised and non industrialised societies and all the evidence suggests this has always
been the case, both for food and as raw materials. Numerous strands of evidence suggest
intensive use of plants; the actual finds themselves, the indirect evidence in the form
of artefacts and collecting patterns as well as the widespread ethnographic evidence. The
implications of string technology both in social and material terms, at the individual personal
level where the requirement to produce string would have been constant, to the giant
technological leaps that production of string entailed suggest that learning to twist plant
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Prehistoric string theory. How twisted fibres helped to shape the world
fibres into string might be viewed as one of the small number of crucial skills that enabled
human technology to develop. Twisted fibres not only held the world together, they helped
to shape it both materially and socially.
Acknowledgements
Thanks to Anne Marie Decker for information on recent n˚
alebinding and to Geoff Bailey, Ole Grøn, Nicky
Milner, UlrikeSommer and two anonymous referees for their comments. Thanks to Derek Hodgson for help with
psychology references and to Karl Heider for permission to cite him. Thanks to Jordi Estevez for his information
from Patagonia. Thanks to the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney for allowing me to photograph Figures 1
and 2. Figures 3 and 4 are reproduced with permission from the Shetland Museum Photographic Archive. This
paper was written while the author was in receipt of an EU Marie Curie Outgoing International Fellowship.
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... Nevertheless, recent increases in the use of archaeobotanical recovery methods such as flotation and improvements in the application of microscopic and other scientific techniques by archaeological textile researchers have established that plant fiber-based artifacts such as woven textiles, baskets, ropes/cords, and twined netting can be recovered and identified. What's more, they provide unique insights into the botanical and ecological knowledge, and specific skills, of thos who manufactured them (Barber 1991;Earwood 1997;Hardy, 2008Hardy, , 2012Harris 2014;Rast-Eicher and Dietrich, 2015). ...
... In the study of ancient textiles broad attention has been given to domesticated fibers, chief among them wool and flax, as key prehistoric economic fibers for textiles in the Western world (Barber, 1991;Bar-Yosef, 2020;Becker et al., 2016;Breniquet and Michel, 2014;McCorriston, 1997). In recent years, more awareness of non-cultivated bast's role in prehistoric textile cordage and netting has been championed by textile experts (Earwood, 1997;Rast-Eicher and Dietrich, 2015;Hardy, 2008Hardy, , 2012Harris, 2014;Reichert, 2006Reichert, , 2020. ...
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Textiles from Neolithic Çatalhöyük are among the earliest and best-preserved woven plant artifacts from ancient Southwest Asia. Recent examinations of textiles from Çatalhöyük's East Mound middle habitation phase (6700-6500 cal. B. C.) provide surprising evidence that instead of being made from flax (linen, Linum usita-tissimum), as previously thought, the fibers are from the inner bark of trees (tree bast), some samples identified as bast from locally growing oak (Quercus sp.). The present paper reports on a separate analysis of five woven textile and two cordage fragments, also from the middle habitation phase. Our aims were to identify their raw material origins, distinguish the thread-making technology present, and to situate them within the broader chaîne opératoire of thread and textile making in the prehistory of the region. We observed that the thread-making technology was based on an end-to-end splicing method, and while agreeing with the earlier published study, that tree bast, not flax, was the source of the fiber, our results further suggest that elm (Ulmus sp.) and willow/ poplar (Salicaceae) were also among the bast raw materials used in textile manufacture at the site. From these results we can infer that the textile makers possessed complex understandings of the biology, physiology, and seasonality of local wild tree genera throughout the surrounding environment.
... According to Hardy (2008) string production is a never-ending process. This author has remarked the amount of work involved in cordage production among the Wala of Papua Nueva Guinea, where string making took up well over 50% of women's manufacturing time and 45% of all manufacturing time when men's time was also included. ...
... However, when it comes to archaeology, the reduced amount of string findings does not allow us to get a direct and accurate evidence of how string manufacturing was. To do so, we must turn elsewhere for help, and ethnography is one of our most reliable tools (Carr & Maslowski, 1995;Connolly, Kallenbach, & McCabe, 2017;Hardy, 2008;Kerfant, 2022;Wickens & Lowe, 2008). ...
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The site Zamostje 2, located in Sergiev-Posad district of Moscow (Russia) on the west bank of the Dubna River, has provided two Mesolithic and one Early Neolithic occupations dated from 7000 to 5400 cal BC. Thanks to the waterlogged environment, the site has an exceptional preservation. The site has yielded fishing screens, fishing fences, wooden fishing traps, and several small cordage remains elaborated with plant fibres, pine bark floats, fragments of paddles, and other wooden objects. In this work, we present the study of the fragments of cordage and fishing nets with the objective of providing new insights into the production and use of implements made of plant fibres. We have characterized the production process by analysing the morphological and technical characteristics by carrying out experimentation with plant fibres in order to obtain reference material to recognize them at an archaeological level. The analysis of 82 knots and 23 fragments of strings has allowed to determine that they were elaborated with single threads from 0.5 to 1.5 mm thick, which is noticeably smaller than most examples from other sites. All of them were elaborated with woody bast fibres.
... XVII, XIX). Sinew was proposed as a material used for suspension in European archaeological contexts (Cristiani et al., 2014;Radovčić et al., 2015), as were multiple other fibrous materials (Hardy, 2008). ...
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Shells have been used as beads for ornamentation from early human history to this day. The Neolithic period in the Levant brought about profound changes in human lifeways that influenced the ways people chose, manufactured , and used shell beads. Different traces etched on shell beads may reflect various manufacturing modes and materials and diverse uses and interactions that shell beads had with different materials during use. In order to aid in the interpretation of such traces an experimental scheme was devised and carried out. Various Neolithic-style shell bead types were fabricated, using different techniques and materials; the replicas were strung by different strings, against different backdrop materials and in diverse configurations; and swung on a pendulating machine. Replicated shell beads were examined under low magnification and the traces recognized on them compared to wear traces identified on archaeological Neolithic shell beads from the Southern Levant. The comparison allowed, among other results, to define a specific type of wear associated with stringing and use of particular shell beads common in the Neolithic Levant. This finding will significantly increase our ability to recognize and interpret shell bead use in general, and particularly may be incorporated in a broader understanding of Neolithic dress, society and lifeways.
... Globally, cordages are occasionally found in well-preserved archaeological contexts, for example, in fishing gear (e.g. Berihuete-Azorín et al. 2023), in constructions requiring durable binding (Hardy 2008) or woven textiles (Rast-Eicher et al. 2021). Thus, Järvensuo 1 significantly increases knowledge of the northern Stone Age. ...
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Rare organic artefacts, including wooden figurines and fishnet fragments from the Stone Age ( c. 6000–2000 BC) were found in 2020 and 2021 during excavations of a wetland site in Finland. The first results from analysing the artefacts, crafting methods and raw materials provide novel insights into artisanship, material know-how and visual culture of northern hunter-fisher-gatherers.
... Ties made of rattan were used until recently to attach shafts to stone tools in Papua New Guinea [93,94], and may have played an important role in hafting for a very long time. More generally, tying materials enabled the development of composite technologies [95]. With the use-wear pattern presented here, we now have a means to make fibre technology more visible in the archaeological record, even if the perishable final products have not survived. ...
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A large part of our material culture is made of organic materials, and this was likely the case also during prehistory. Amongst this prehistoric organic material culture are textiles and cordages, taking advantage of the flexibility and resistance of plant fibres. While in very exceptional cases and under very favourable circumstances, fragments of baskets and cords have survived and were discovered in late Pleistocene and Holocene archaeological sites, these objects are generally not preserved, especially in tropical regions. We report here indirect evidence of basket/tying material making found on stone tools dating to 39-33,000 BP from Tabon Cave, Palawan Philippines. The distribution of use-wear on these artefacts is the same as the distribution observed on experimental tools used to thin fibres, following a technique that is widespread in the region currently. The goal of this activity is to turn hard plant segments into supple strips suitable as tying material or to weave baskets, traps, and even boats. This study shows early evidence of this practice in Southeast Asia and adds to the growing set of discoveries showing that fibre technology was an integral part of late Pleistocene skillset. This paper also provides a new way to identify supple strips of fibres made of tropical plants in the archaeological record, an organic technology that is otherwise most of the time invisible.
... Todavia, as evidências diretas de cordoaria datam de um período entre 41 e 52 mil anos (HARDY et al., 2020). A produção de fios e cordoaria foi uma "revolução" que alicerçou novos conhecimentos tecnológicos, como vestimentas, ornamentação, amarras, redes, armadilhas, entre outros, que possibilitaram à humanidade moldar o mundo de forma material e social (BARBER;1995;HARDY, 2008). Cordoaria e demais tecnologias de fibras vegetais, como os têxteis e os trançados -as mais perecíveis dentre as tecnologias perecíveis -eram amplamente utilizadas no Velho Mundo em torno de 27 mil anos (SOFFER et al., 2000) e, para Adovasio et al. (2014), o próprio povoamento inicial das Américas só foi bem-sucedido pelo domínio dessas tecnologias. ...
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A construção do presente dossiê surgiu a partir das discussões engendradas no simpósio temático “Tecnologias Perecíveis: abordagens arqueológicas e etnográficas”, realizado em 2019 no XX Congresso da Sociedade de Arqueologia Brasileira (SAB), em Pelotas – RS. Durante o simpósio, destacou-se, de diferentes formas, que as tecnologias perecíveis costumam ser invisibilizadas na Arqueologia como um todo. Na ocasião, os trabalhos reunidos realçaram o quão dispersas e presentes estão essas tecnologias nas sociedades humanas ao longo do tempo. Elas são fundamentais para a moradia, obtenção, armazenamento e produção alimentar, na significação da vida de modo geral e nos seus momentos marcantes, como nos funerais. Neste volume, os assuntos debatidos no referido simpósio estão amplificados e aprofundados com a reunião de 14 artigos e um resumo de tese, agregando pesquisas realizadas nas regiões Norte, Nordeste, Sul e Sudeste do Brasil, no centro da Argentina e na região circum-caribenha.
... Plait and twisted fibre have been defined as a complex technology using different components (K. Hardy 2008;Hurley 1979;Kenyon 1951;Kvavadze et al. 2009;McKenna et al. 2004;Small 2002) and even a mathematical comprehension of pairs, groups and numbers (B. Hardy et al. 2020). It is the technological basis for making textiles, bags, nets, mats and ropes. Nevertheless, although it is a basic component in all cultures, there is very little direct ...
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Direct or indirect evidence of ropemaking are scarce in European prehistory. Only a few references to Middle or Upper Palaeolithic remains are known to us, with more examples towards the Holocene. The archaeological contexts of ropes offer little information about possible uses, as the activities they are used for are often archaeologically invisible. However, some rock-art traditions shed some light on potential uses, worth exploring. In Spain, Levantine rock art offers the best graphic examples across Europe showing various uses of ropes, including climbing. Starting from the recently discovered climbing scene of Barranco Gómez site (Teruel, Spain), including the best preserved and more complex use of ropes seen so far in Levantine art, this paper analyses representations of ropes in this art, as well as their varieties and diverse uses. Our study suggests that different rope-making techniques were used by Levantine societies, which we believe are indicative of a complex rope-making technology, requiring a considerable investment of time and efforts. It also shows a certain variety of rope climbing techniques and rope climbing gear, illustrating that both were mastered by Levantine societies. Moreover, a preferential use of ropes in honey-hunting scenes is observed.
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Antecedentes: El estudio científico de la cestería tradicional de Andalucía se ha realizado por primera vez a principios del siglo XXI y desde la perspectiva etnobotánica. Preguntas: ¿Qué plantas se han utilizado para cestería en Andalucía y para qué? ¿Siempre las mismas? ¿Qué se sabe de ellas y cómo es el saber? ¿Han variado los saberes tradicionales de especies para cestería en las zonas de Andalucía en el período entre ambos milenios? ¿Siguen vigentes? ¿Dónde y por qué? Especies de estudio: Flora para cestería. Sitio y años de estudio: Andalucía, España: 1989-2020 Métodos: La información sobre el conocimiento y usos de plantas para cestería, se obtuvo de entrevistas abiertas y semiestructuradas a informantes locales a largo plazo. El análisis de datos se realizó con índices etnobotánicos: etnobotanicidad de la etnoflora de cestería (EIBi), uso etnoflorístico cestero de la etnoflora (BEUEi) y etnoflora cestera tradicional (BEi). Resultados: Se registraron 172 especies de plantas vasculares para cestería en Andalucía. Se encontró continuidad de usos, conocimiento y léxico basada en datos activos y pasivos de informantes. Los índices etnobotánicos para cestería aquí propuestos (EIBi, BEUEi, BEi), permitieron conocer reservorios y establecer niveles de continuidad y pérdida de saberes entre 1989 y 2020. Conclusiones: Elevado número de especies con potencial cestero en Andalucía. Sus saberes tradicionales, solo vigentes en algunas, sufren erosión creciente. Las consecuencias de la COVID-19 predicen un desenlace peor.
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Scotland's First Settlers comprised a survey project to locate and examine sites relating to the earliest, Mesolithic, settlement of the Inner Sound, along the coastlands between Skye and the west coast of Scotland. Particular foci of interest included the existence and nature of midden sites, the use of rockshelters and caves, and the different types of lithic raw material in use. In addition, information relating to the human use of the area up to the present day was recorded. Fieldwork took place over five years between 1999 and 2004: the entire coastline of the Inner Sound together with its islands was walked; 129 new archaeological sites were recorded; 36 sites were shovel pitted; 44 test pitted; and one major excavation took place. Excavation at Sand has been particularly exciting as it has resulted in the analysis of a shell midden dating to the early-mid seventh millennium BC, the early Mesolithic of Scotland. This report comprises the results of survey and excavation work as well as detailed artefact reports, full information on ecofacts such as shell, and bone, and information on the development of the landscape and environment, including sea level change. Finally, the broad-scale coverage of the project has led to a number of discussion points that have much to offer further work, both within the area and further afield. Digital material associated with this project is available through Archaeology Data Service archive http://dx.doi.org/10.5284/1000285 Scotland's First Settlers
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The origin of pottery is among the most important questions in Old World archaeology. The author undertakes a critical review of radiocarbon dates associated with the earliest pottery-making and eliminates a number of them where the material or its context are unreliable. Using those that survive this process of 'chronometric hygiene', he proposes that food-containers made of burnt clay originated in East Asia in the Late Glacial, c. 13 700-13 300 BP, and appeared in three separate regions, in Japan, China and far eastern Russia, at about the same time.
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Over the past decade, textile researchers have identified large temporal and geographic regions in the eastern United States in which strong patterns of cordage twist direction existed prehistorically. This work prompted questions about why cordage production processes seem to be so conservative. Recent research demonstrates that handedness, fiber type, and spinning technique probably do not determine cordage twist direction. The results indicate, instead, that participation in communities of practice or learning networks, the automatization of motor skills, and the practicalities of production have important effects. This paper also examines learning and motor-skill development as factors in conservative cordage production behavior and then interprets cordage twist direction distributions in the prehistoric Southeast from this perspective.