8500-year-old Late Mesolithic garment embroidery from Vlasac (Serbia):
Technological, use-wear and residue analyses
McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB1 3ER, UK
Department of Archaeology and Conservation, Cardiff University, Colum Drive, Cardiff CF10 3EU, UK
Received 19 February 2012
Received in revised form
7 May 2012
Accepted 10 May 2012
The Danube Gorges
This paper presents results of contextual, technological, use-wear and residue analyses of body orna-
ments from two Late Mesolithic burials recently excavated at the site of Vlasac in the Danube Gorges of
the central Balkans. Common to both burials are ornaments made from modiﬁed and unmodiﬁed carp
(Cyprinidae sp.) pharyngeal ‘teeth’along with Cyclope neritea marine gastropods. Experimental and low
and high magniﬁcation use-wear approaches have been employed in reconstructing the way these
ornaments were made and used. The precise contextual distribution of these ornaments has been
recorded for the ﬁrst time. The two examined burials exhibit a number of similarities, particularly in the
way ornaments were placed in relation to the body. Both burials are also contemporaneous, dated to the
mid-7th millennium BC. Implications of these ﬁndings for Mesolithic foragers’corporeal symbolism,
group identity and regional and long-distance acquisition networks are brieﬂy examined.
Ó2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
In the ﬁeld of studies dedicated to body ornamentation, in more
recent years a number of authors have utilized low and high
magniﬁcation use-wear analyses along with other scientiﬁc
approaches in order to discern patterns of acquisition,
manufacturing, wear and subsequent use and deposition/discard of
ornaments in diverse past contexts (e.g. Álvarez Fernández, 2006;
Bonnardin, 2007,2009;Kuhn and Stiner, 2007;Rigaud, 2011;
Vanhaeren and d’Errico, 2001,2005;Taborin, 1993;White, 1993,
1995,1999;Wright and Garrard, 2009). These analytical procedures
disclosed minuscule details of particular practices related to body
ornamentation and provided an opportunity to discuss complex
symbolic associations that such items might have carried or evoked
as much for those who wore them as for the onlookers. In this
paper we focus on the case study of Mesolithic communities found
in the Danube Gorges of the north-central Balkans, where one ﬁnds
both an absolutely unique type of locally devised body decoration
as well as certain types of ‘exotic’, marine gastropods, shared both
in space and time with very distant communities of southern
Europe and the Mediterranean Basin, yet originally appropriated
for local needs in this regional context.
While certain types of ornaments from the Late Mesolithic
settlements in the Danube Gorges have been mentioned in the
existing literature before (e.g. Boroneant¸ , 1990,2001;M
c and Letica, 1978;Radovanovi
c, 1994), to-date there
has been no dedicated study of technological, functional and
contextual characteristics of ornaments from this region. One
particular peculiarity of the Late Mesolithic mortuary practices at
some of the sites is the presence of pharyngeal ‘teeth’of Cyprinidae
sp. (hereafter referred to as carp teeth), coming from different
species of carp and used as ornaments. Previously, these items have
been described as being “sprinkled”over the body, similar to ochre
c, 1994). However, one of us (DB) examined the
collection of carp teeth found in Mesolithic burials during the
1970e1971 excavations of the site of Vlasac, and noticed that
a signiﬁcant portion of these items were intentionally modiﬁed on
their ‘roots’in order to facilitate fastening to clothing (Bori
Appendix 6). These initial insights were conﬁrmed by the discovery
of a large number of carp teeth ornaments, found in several recently
excavated burials at the same site (Bori
c, 2006,2007a,2011; see
below). Carp teeth as body decoration were also found in burials
excavated at the contemporaneous Late Mesolithic site of Schela
Cladovei (Bonsall, 2008;Boroneant¸, 1990,2001), located some
80 km downstream from Vlasac, as well as insettlement deposits of
Lepenski Vir (I.
c, pers. comm.). However, to the best of our
*Corresponding author. Tel.: þ44 (0) 1223 333538, þ44 (0) 7712651312
(mobile); fax: þ44 (0) 1223 333536.
E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org (E. Cristiani), email@example.com (D. Bori
Tel.: þ44 (0) 29 208 76597, þ44 (0) 7747022417 (mobile); fax: þ44 (0) 29 208
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Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e3469
knowledge, only at Vlasac does one also ﬁnd a combination with
marine gastropods, commonly Cyclope neritea L. 1758, and only
rarely Columbella rustica (Bori
c et al., 2009,unpublished data). In
the course of new excavations at Vlasac these different types of
ornaments were found in two burials, with a similar contextual
patterning. The rest of the paper discusses the results of analyses
made on these ornaments and their patterning in burials.
2. Site and its chronology
Vlasac is situated approximately 3 km downstream from the
type-site of Lepenski Vir in the Upper Gorge of the Danube, on the
Serbian side of the river (Fig. 1). It is one of the key settlements
among a number of Mesolithic and Neolithic sites found along the
Danube banks in this speciﬁc landscape zone. The ﬁrst excavations
at the site were made in 1970e1971 as part of a rescue project
c and Letica, 1978). New excavations at Vlasac were begun
in 2006 and the investigations of the site are ongoing (Bori
c et al., 2008,2009). The resumed work at Vlasac
has covered an area of 326 m
, investigating a 63 m stretch of the
new riverbank section created after 1971 in the likely peripheral,
southernmost part of the site (Fig. 2). Spatially, this new work takes
place upslope from the excavation area that was investigated in
1970e1971. In the course of new excavations at the site, all
archaeological deposits were sieved using 3e5 mm meshes, while
a large program of ﬂotation was undertaken with heavy residue
fractions being sieved down to 0.5 mm mesh, in this way
enabling the recovery of a large number of small ﬁnds, including
different types of beads.
Radiometric evidence from both old and new excavations
suggests that the site was more or less continuously occupied from
the Early Mesolithic, from z9500 cal. BC, but the intensity of
occupation, judging by the number of radiometric dates, was
greatest from the mid-8th millennium cal. BC (Bori
et al., 2008,2009). This Late Mesolithic occupation/use of the site
covers the period z740 0e6200 cal. BC. New research at Vlasac has
indicated that the site was continuously used throughout the period
of MesolithiceNeolithic transformations (z6200e5900 cal. BC).
Finally, there is clear evidence for the use of this site in the course of
the regional Early/Middle Neolithic (z6000/5950e5500 cal. BC).
During the Early/Middle Neolithic phase, the ﬁrst pottery appears at
c et al., 2008, Appendix).
Late Mesolithic domestic features, such as at least ﬁve trape-
zoidal dwellings and 27 rectangular stone-lined hearths as well as
burials were found at the site (Bori
c and Letica, 1978). The total number of formal burials at
Vlasac excavated in 1970e1971 comprises 87 graves, containing
either 119 individuals (Nemeskéri, 1978) or 164 individuals
c, 1999,2000). Another 17 formally interred primary and
secondary burials were excavated in 2006e2008, while the
minimum number of individuals (MNI) for this recently acquired
assemblage is 16 (Stefanovi
c, unpublished data). There are 30
additional contexts associated with disarticulated human bones.
Among the buried individuals from both excavation phases at the
site are adults, children and neonates, all buried mostly as extended
supine inhumations, although some semi-ﬂexed and one seated
burial in a lotus position were also found (Bori
c and Stefanovi
c and Letica,
A large number of domesticated dogs were found in Late Meso-
lithic contexts.Subsistence was based on hunting (predominantly red
deer Cervus elaphus)andﬁshing (carp [Cyprinidae sp.] species, catﬁsh
Siluris glanis and sturgeon, including beluga Huso huso). Numerous
carp specimens were recovered both in the course of old
(NISP ¼6782: Bökönyi, 1978) and new excavations at the site
(NISP ¼6566: Dimitrijevi
ornaments from carp pharyngeal teeth presented in this paper). Apart
from their subsistence use, the importance of carp related to
the acquisition of pharyngeal teeth for ornaments (see below).
3. Ornaments in burials
3.1. Burial H2
Articulated, extended supine inhumation Burial H2 was found
under a thin layer of beach pebble in front of the eroded section of
Fig. 1. The Danube Gorges with the location of principal Late Upper Palaeolithic/Epipalaeolithic and EarlyeLate Mesolithic sites.
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e3469 3451
Fig. 2. Site plan of Vlasac showing areas excavated from 2006 to 2009 with the distribution of burial and pit features.
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e34693452
the current riverbank in 2006 (Bori
c, 2006). The burial was partially
damaged by the river erosion that likely destroyed the skull and
part of the upper right arm and both shoulder bones. The burial was
oriented parallel to the Danube (EeW orientation), while the head
was pointing downstream (Fig. 3). This burial position and orien-
tation are frequently found in the Danube Gorges, especially during
the late phase of the Mesolithic (Bori
c and Miracle,
c, 1996). The arms and hands were placed over
the pelvis, while the legs were found tightly together, possibly
indicating some type of binding or wrapping of the body prior to
the burial. One large stone was placed atop the lower legs, just
below the knees. The burial seems to have been encased within
a stone construction. Several neatly aligned stones (one of red
color) were found along the burial’s left side. River erosion and/or
downslope movement displaced the stone construction along the
right side of the body, closer to the river. There was also a small,
modiﬁed reddish stone beneath the surface level exactly in the area
where the head of the deceased would have been and it is possible
that this stone was placed intentionally beneath the head.
On the basis of osteological analysis, the deceased was a female
between 30 and 40 years old at the time of her death. A trace of
a healed fracture was found at the anterior part of the distal end of
the left humerus. While most of the postcranial bones exhibit
gracile features, there are strong muscle attachments on the
posterior side of the lower limbs as well as a visible deformation of
ulnar diaphysis (Stefanovi
c, unpublished data).
Associated with the body were 642 perforated, unperforated
and fragmented carp teeth found over, around and underneath the
body (Table 1;Figs. 3 and 5a). Judging by the frequency of teeth
found securely beneath the body of the deceased, it is likely that
most of the teeth were in fact associated with the back rather than
the front of the body (see discussion below). The highest frequency
of carp teeth ornaments are encountered beneath and around the
pelvis of the deceased, followed by her thighs and torso. Less
numerous, 32 C. neritea were found scattered beneath the upper
part of the back of the deceased (6), in the burial ﬁll of the torso
region (6), and, most interestingly, underneath the proximal part of
the femora, undisturbed as a closely-knit line of beads with
a horizontal orientation, perpendicular to the body axis (15); only 1
C. neritea was found in the area of the lower legs (see Fig. 3). All
C. neritea ornaments had their ﬂat, ventral and unmodiﬁed sides
Fig. 3. Burial H2 from Vlasac with marked distribution of carp and Cyclope neritea ornaments found in situ upon exposing the burial.
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e3469 3453
The burial has directly been dated, after the correction for the
reservoir effect (cf. Cook et al., 2002), in the range of 6775 to
6470 cal. BC at 95 per cent probability (OxA-16541: 8228 40 BP;
corrected 7788 60 BP) (Bori
c et al., 2008). Stable isotope
N¼16.3dsuggest that the diet of this
individual was largely based on ﬁsh, similar to dietary isotopic
signatures of many other 7th millennium BC burials from this and
other sites in the region (Bonsall et al., 1997;Bori
c and Miracle,
3.2. Burial H297
Child burial H297 (Feature 28) was found in the lower levels of
a burial concentration in Trench 3/2006 (Fig. 2) in the course of
2007 ﬁeld season. Different from most other burials found in this
burial zone (see Bori
c et al., 2008,2009), this individual
was placed in extended supine positionwith NEeSW orientation at
the edge of the burial concentration and was not overlapped by
later interments. A stone slab was found atop the lower portion of
the legs, below the knees (Fig. 4), identical to the way the stone
block was placed over the legs of individual H2. Another similarity
with the previously described burial of woman H2 was the asso-
ciation of child H297 with 701 perforated, unperforated and frag-
mented carp teeth ornaments (Table 1; Figs. 4,5b and 7) and 22
C. neritea shells. These ornaments were found primarily around and
beneath the whole postcranial skeleton and the majority of
C. neritea (12) were found again in a similar position as in Burial H2,
i.e. as a line of beads below the proximal half of the femora of this
individual with the ﬂat, ventral side of the shell facing down; ﬁve
beads were found underneath the torso of the deceased, two below
the lower legs of the deceased and for three beads it was not
possible to ascertain the exact position as these were found by
sieving excavated ﬁll from the burial.
Based on dental eruption timing the child was around 1 year old.
Meningeal reaction is visible on parietal and occipital bones, and it
might have been the cause of the child’s death (Stefanovi
While no direct radiometric evidence is available for this indi-
vidual, it can indirectly be dated on the basis of near-by directly
AMS dated Burial H136 (OxA-18865: 8231 36 BP; corrected for
the reservoir effect 7791 58 BP: 6774 to 6472cal. BC at 95 per cent
c et al., 2008) and a terminus ante quem date from
the layer beneath H297 (OxA-24809: 7943 40 BP: 7034 to
6692 cal. BC at 95 per cent conﬁdence, Bori
c et al., unpublished
data). These dates suggest that Burial H297 and H2 were broadly
contemporaneous, and that both can be dated to z6700e6500 BC.
No other previously excavated burials in the Danube Gorges
contained so many carp teeth used as ornaments (for 1970e1971
excavations at Vlasac the maximum reported number of carp
teeth found in Burial 42b is 294: Bori
c, 2003: Appendix 6; at Schela
Cladovei the maximum reported number was 338 specimens for
Burial M38: Boroneant¸, 1990,2001), which may relate to varying
qualities of recovery techniques applied in the course of earlier
rescue excavations in the region.
Pharyngeal teeth are opposing teeth that occur in patches along
the brachial arches (Edwards,1929;Wheeler and Jones, 1989). They
are constituted of an enamel globular body, which is attached to the
pharyngeal bone through an elongated bony neck (Fig. 6). The
maximum length of carp is 110 cm, but it is commonly around
30 cm. The maximum reported weight is 40 kg (Kottelat and
Freyhof, 2007). The common carp is native to Europe and Asia.
Balon (1995) suggests that common carp evolved in the Caspian Sea
Spatial groupings of carp teeth and Cyclope neritea ornaments found in Burials H2
and H297 (see Figs. 3 and 4).
x.4 3 1
x.22 1 3
x.23 4 2
x.24 2 1
x.25 3 1
x.26 3 1
x.27 4 5 1
x.29 2 1
x.30 9 1 3
x.32 1 3
x.33 3 22 5
x.34 1 3
x.35 2 1 1
x.36 1 3 7
x.38 2 1
x.46 11 1 1
x.48 3 27 4
x.50 26 44
x.54 11 2 4
x.55 27 56 25
x.57 1 2
x.59 1 1 3
x.60 100 16 7 16
x.64 7 4 1
x.68 6 18 2
Burial ﬁll 4 11 5 6
Burial ﬁll epelvis
Trench 1/2006 3
Wet sieving 43 2
Totals 310 255 77 32
x.1 24 2 1
x.2 1 9 3 2
x.3 1 24 19
x.4 32 92 43
x.5 40 7 33
x.6 61 7 22 12
x.7 58 134 18 5
Burial ﬁll 35 19 16 3
Totals 252 294 155 22
>than one-half of a carp tooth was counted as complete.
<than one-half of a carp tooth was counted as fragmentary.
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e34693454
and in its westward spread naturally migrated to the Black Sea,
from where it spread into the Danube River. Carp commonly
inhabits large, both slow-ﬂowing (large turbid rivers) and still
water bodies, and likes deep and warm waters, which are in the
case of this species necessary conditions for spawning.
C. neritea L. 1758 is a species of marine gastropods that belongs
to the family Nassariidae, and is widespread in shallow waters of
the Mediterranean, sandy shores of the Atlantic coast (e.g. in
Portugal, Spain and France), in coastal lagoons and saltmarshes
(Nordsieck, 1968;Pérès and Picard, 1964;Sacchi, 1960;Southward
et al., 1997). The habitats of this species are shallow waters
(Shackleton, 1998, 37) and the species “ﬂourishes close to river
mouths”(Shackleton, 1998, 25; Sakellariou, 1957). The shell of
C. neritea has an oval shape, and is characterized by (a) a base and
Fig. 4. Burial H297from Vlasac with marked distribution of carp and Cyclope neritea ornaments found in situ upon exposing the burial.
Fig. 5. Spatial frequencies of carp teeth and Cyclope neritea ornaments by four main body zones in Burials (a) H2 and (b) H297.
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e3469 3455
(b) an upper convex surface (maculated side of the shell or the side
where the internal spirals and the apex are visible) (Fig. 13b). The
color of the base may vary from beige/ivory to brown, while on the
convex surface the pigmentation varies among specimens from
yellow/orange to red and dark gray (Fig. 13a in the Web version).
Table 1 provides information about the number of perforated,
unperforated and fragmentary carp teeth and C. neritea ornaments
examined in this study as well as the information on the frequency
of specimens by x.ﬁnd numbers, which provide three-dimensional
coordinates for each ﬁnd or a group of ﬁnds marked on Figs. 2
Our methodology is based on the integration of technological,
use-wear and residue analyses, aided by experimental data.
Osseous and shell ornaments have been microscopically examined
at magniﬁcation ranging from 10to 165using a stereoscopic
microscope Leica 205C with LED lighting and at magniﬁcation from
50to 1000using an incident light metallographic microscope
Leica DM4000M with polarizing ﬁlters and bright and dark ﬁeld.
The analytical criteria for the technological interpretation of
Vlasac ornaments were established by reference to several publi-
cations on the use of shell and osseous beads found in prehistoric
funerary contexts (e.g. Bonnardin, 2007,2009;d’Errico and
Vanhaeren, 2002;Vanhaeren and d’Errico, 2001,2003,2005).
Furthermore, observations made on archaeological specimens were
compared to experimental replicas made on modern specimens of
carp teeth and C. neritea marine shells. Taphonomic considerations
related to C. neritea shell preservation have been carried out on the
basis of the works of Driscoll and Weltin (1973),Claassen (1998)
and d’Errico et al. (2005). In order to interpret post-depositional
alterations characterizing carp teeth we referred to the works of
Hospitaleche et al. (2011) and Fischer (1995).
Residues were studied as part of an integrative functional
approach in order to understand the system for attaching orna-
ments to clothing. We assumed that residues might have come
from different types of glue, colorants or ﬁbers. Residues were
interpreted in situ on the basis of their morphological features. A
number of carp teeth and C. neritea ornaments were cleaned with
distilled water before analysis, while some were studied avoiding
any washing procedure. The methodology of residue analysis as
well as criteria for interpreting their morphology have been
established by reference to several authors whose work has mainly
focused on stone tool residue analyses (e.g. Barton et al., 1998;
Briuer, 1976;Fullagar, 1998,1988,2006;Hardy and Garuﬁ, 1998;
Haslam, 2004;Jahren et al., 1997;Kealhofer et al., 1999;Lombard,
2004,2005,2007;Lombard and Wadley, 2007;Piperno and
Holst, 1998;Piperno et al., 2000;Shafer and Holloway, 1979). In
addition, we made experiments by embroidering modern C. neritea
shells and bone ornaments on pieces of ochre-tanned leather and
by using ochre-tanned strings from hide, tendons and linen in order
to attach ornaments. This comparative collection served to help us
understand better patterns observed on the archaeological speci-
mens we studied.
6.1. Carp pharyngeal teeth ornaments
The dimensions of carp teeth used as ornaments in Burials H2
and H297 vary from 10 to 14 mm in length, 7e10 mm in width and
Fig. 6. (a, b, d) Anatomy of carp head bones, pharyngeal bone and teeth shown on a modern carp specimen; (c) close-up of a modern carp pharyngeal tooth (10).
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e34693456
3e5 mm in thickness. Examined carp teeth specimens from both
Burial H2 and H297 were prone to slight taphonomic alterations
caused by plant roots and funguses. These processes affected the
bone surface of the bony ‘neck’as much as the enamel portion.
Taphonomical alterations were more pronounced on the carp
teeth from Burial H297. The action of funguses is particularly
visible on the neck of non-perforated teeth.
The following zones are identiﬁed on a carp tooth: frontal part,
where the hole is located on perforated specimens; back part, and
two lateral sides. The elongated part of the pharyngeal tooth is also
referred to as the ‘neck’(Fig. 8a). The perforation was made by
transversally grooving at the level of the neck on the frontal surface
with a stone tool, aimed at creating a small hole in the center of the
groove (Fig. 8eeg). Ornaments show either (i) a jagged termination
(Fig. 8c), or (ii) the presence of a part of the pharyngeal bone on the
extremity of the neck (Fig. 8d). Experimental data show that these
characteristics are the result of a bending action (i.e. ﬂexion) used
to extract the teeth from the jaw (Fig. 8b). Experiments carried out
using both boiled and fresh carp showed that teeth are easily
extracted from the jaw when the bones were still fresh or soon after
boiling. It is, thus, likely that the procurement of the teeth for the
production of ornaments was done during the butchery phase and
not afterwards. The extraction of carp teeth from the jawbone
created different patterns of breakage: while in a number of
instances the complete neck with a part of jawbone was extracted,
in other instances a jagged fracture was created on the neck. The
latter instances might have necessitated a further technological
modiﬁcation on carp teeth in order to create a hole, which would
facilitate easier fastening of ornaments. From burial H2, there are
87 perforated carp teeth ornaments that exhibit this type of frac-
ture while only 22 perforations were made on those specimens
which have no fracture on the neck; similarly, in burial H297, 130
carp teeth with perforations have the fracture on the root and only
35 teeth with perforations come from specimens which have no
fracture on the neck. The numbers of perforated carp teeth are
complemented by almost equal numbers of non-perforated carp
Fig. 7. Selected (a) unmodiﬁed and (b) perforated ornaments from carp teeth found in Burial H297 (x.7) at Vlasac.
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e3469 3457
teeth in both burials. The latter specimens do not exhibit
manufacturing modiﬁcations, but were also used for embroidery, as
our use-wear analysis shows.
Carp teeth ornaments show developed use-wear traces, which
indicate their prolonged use. Use modiﬁcations characterize both
perforated and unmodiﬁed teeth, but in different ways (Fig. 9aeb).
Perforated teeth are characterized by rounding traces which are
located on: (i) part of the jagged end of a tooth, both outside
(Fig. 10a) and inside (Fig. 10d); (ii) the frontal part of a tooth, from
the jagged fracture to the neck of the tooth (Fig. 10c); (iii) superior
part of the hole created by the cut (Fig. 10b); (iv) the whole frontal
zone that goes from the neck of a tooth (where the hole is located)
to the beginning of the enamel extremity; and, (v) on one of the
lateral surfaces. Fine striations were also observed at high magni-
ﬁcation (from 100x) along the rounded surfaces of the holes
(Fig. 11b). Unmodiﬁed teeth are characterized by rounding traces
which are located on: (i) the whole frontal part that goes from the
neck of a tooth to the beginning of the prominent enamel
extremity; and, (ii) on the back extremity of the neck. Striations
have been identiﬁed on unmodiﬁed teeth. They are located on: (i)
the frontal part of the neck (Fig. 11d); (ii) the lateral sides of a tooth
(Figs. 10e and 11 c); and, (iii) the back part of the neck (Fig. 11e).
Furthermore, traces of compression have also been observed all
around the neck of unmodiﬁed teeth ornaments (Fig. 10f).
Residues have been identiﬁed on both pierced and unmodiﬁed
carp teeth (Fig. 9c, d). They are represented by (i) red ochre
concretions (identiﬁed on 148 specimens: Table 1,Fig. 11aec, eef)
and (ii) birefringent elongated animal ﬁbers (identiﬁed on 798
carp teeth), which have been interpreted as collagen ﬁbrils on the
basis of comparative modern residues. Such ﬁbrous components
Fig. 8. Technological traits of carp teeth ornament modiﬁcation: (a) proﬁles of a modiﬁed carp tooth; (b) modern carp pharyngeal bone and teeth with dotted lines indicating the
area of breakage; (c) typical fracture on the neck of a perforated tooth fromBurial H2; (d) appearance of the neck of an unmodiﬁed tooth from Burial H297; (e) perforated tooth from
Burial H297; (f) front detail of the perforation with sawing marks (50); (g) side detail of the perforation (50).
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e34693458
are numerous in animal tissues such as leather and tendons
(Fig. 12a, c, e). On the perforated carp teeth, residues have been
identiﬁed inside the hole, in association with rounding and stria-
tions (Fig. 11b). In few cases, residues have also been observed on
the interior part of the neck, close to the fracture edge. On the
unmodiﬁed teeth the residues show a repeated pattern of distri-
bution: (i) on the middle of the frontal part of the neck (Fig. 11a); (ii)
on the middle part of the lateral sides of the neck (Fig. 11f); and, (iii)
on the middle part of the back of the neck (Fig. 11e). Both ochre and
collagen residues are characterized by a speciﬁc transversal orien-
tation all along the neck (Fig. 11f) as well as by other linear features
on their surfaces (e.g. striations). Striations on the neck of a tooth
have also been observed in association with ochre residues
(Fig. 11c). Distribution, orientation and superimposition of residues
to use-wear traces would indicate their connection with a retaining
system rather than with a garment, to which the ornaments were
attached. Hence, it is likely that colored tendon/leather threads
were transversally rolled around the neck of a tooth in order to
fasten ornaments to a dress item. The possibility that ochre might
have also been related to glue on the threads cannot be excluded, as
has been suggested for few carp teeth ornaments found at the site
of Holenstein-Stadel in southern Germany (Rigaud, 2011).
6.2. C. neritea ornaments
Dimensions of C. neritea ornaments from the two burials have
the following ranges: 9e14 mm in length, 7e12 mm in width, and
a thickness between 3 and 8 mm. It is interesting that somewhat
bigger C. neritea ornaments come from child Burial H297, with
smaller specimens associated with H2 (Fig. 14).
All of the ornaments are characterized by a partial keyhole
perforation, the edges of which are preserved only along the lip of
the shell. On all of the archaeological C. neritea ornaments, the main
body whorls are missing with the exception of the most external
one (Fig. 14). Also, the last two internal spirals of the shell are
generally absent (6 specimens from H2 have it and only one
specimen from H297). Three main factors have been considered to
explain the lack of the body whorls on these specimens: (i) decal-
ciﬁcation; (ii) sediment abrasion; (iii) anthropic action due to
technology and/or wear. Decalciﬁcation was excluded as an
explanation considering that the C. neritea ornaments are well
preserved, have very thick walls and are characterized by rounded
and worn edges. Furthermore, no small perforations corresponding
to different stages of natural erosion are visible on the tips of the
shells or on their bases and lateral areas of the convex surfaces, as
documented on a number of modern shells collected during our
experimental work. Mechanical sediment abrasion is also excluded
on the basis of the good state of preservation of most of the
C. neritea shell surfaces from both burials. Although most of the
beads are characterized by a developed rounding of the edges of the
whorls, no perforations are visible on the shell apex, nor on any
other surfaces (as one would expect from a sedimentary abrasion,
see Driscoll and Weltin, 1973). The lack of the convex part of the
shells is, thus, likely of anthropic nature, suggesting that C. neritea
shell beads were modiﬁed in order to remove their body whorls.
This is further conﬁrmed by experiments on modern C. neritea
specimens and their comparison to archaeological specimens
(Figs. 13 and 15c).
A total of close to 1500 C. neritea marine gastropods were
collected for experimental activities between Mayof 20 09 and2011
on several shores located along the northwestern Adriatic coast,
close to the Po River delta in Italy. Three main perforation tech-
niques have been experimented with in order to understand the
modiﬁcation of the convex surface seen on archaeological speci-
mens: (i) perforation by direct percussion from the outside to
inside of the shell; (ii) perforation by pressure from the outside to
inside of the shell; and, (iii) perforation by pressure through the
aperture of the shell. For the ﬁrst technological activity a little stone
pebble and a pointed ﬂint stone tool were used whereas the second
was carried out with bone awls and wooden sticks.
The rounded and slippery convex surface of C. neritea shell made
the execution of the ﬁrst technique (direct percussion) very difﬁ-
cult, often leading to the destruction of the whole shell. The second
technique (pressure) was much more effective, and both wooden
sticks and osseous awls were equally useful in this manufacturing
process. This technique was also used for the removal of body
whorls. In particular, it was exercised both from the inside to the
outside, and from the outside to the inside of the shell. This tech-
nique produced irregular proﬁles of the walls (i.e. with jagged and/
or notched outlines) and peculiar micro-chipping.
A comparison of experimental and archaeological specimens
suggests that the modiﬁcation of the shells started from the
production of keyhole perforation by pressure exercised from the
inside to the outside of the shell. Micro-chipping is in fact visible on
the outer surface of the perforation. Differently, the micro-chipping
Fig. 9. Distribution of use-wear traces and residue patterns on carp teeth ornaments:
(a) pattern of distribution of use-wear traces and striations on perforated teeth; (b)
pattern of distribution of use-wear traces and striations on unmodiﬁed teeth; (c)
pattern of distribution of residues (both ochre and leather/tendon tissues) on perfo-
rated teeth; (d) pattern of distribution of residues (both ochre and leather/tendon
tissues) on unmodiﬁed teeth.
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e3469 3459
identiﬁed on the whorl edges of the archaeological C. neritea beads
as well as the notched outline, which characterizes the outer spiral
left on the specimens, indicate that the convex side of the shell was
removed by pressure carried out towards the inside of the shell (all
along the body whorls eFig. 15a, b) and towards the outside (for
the removal of the shell apex see Fig.15cef).
Use-wear traces are located on the upper side of all C. neritea
shell beads. In particular, the edges of the shell whorls are rounded,
and polished (Fig. 16a), while the internal spiral, which is left from
the technological removal of the apex, shows ﬂat facets (Fig. 16c).
Similar traces are also visible on the prominent part of the shell
close to its lip (Fig. 16b) and on both sides of the lip (Fig. 16d, e). No
residues have been identiﬁed on C. neritea ornaments from the two
analyzed burials. This lack of residues might be due to taphonomic
alterations on a different material or a meaningful cultural choice
when fastening different types of ornaments.
Our analyses of technological and use-wear traces as well as
residues on carp teeth and C. neritea shells indicate that these
ornaments can be classiﬁed as appliqués, likely embroidered
onto some kind of leather-made clothing. The perforated carp
teeth were sewed to clothing by utilizing the perforation,
whereas the unmodiﬁed specimens were laced by retaining them
around the natural neck of the carp tooth. There is no spatial
patterning that would indicate different zones in the concen-
tration of perforated versus unmodiﬁed carp teeth along the
body. Threads made from animal tissues (tendons and leather)
were utilized for attaching carp teeth ornaments. The presence of
ochre residues and their superimposition with use-wear traces
indicate that the threads were colored, although the possibility
that ochre might have covered the threads cannot be excluded.
The intensity of use-traces on carp teeth and C. neritea suggests
that these ornaments were worn long before their deposition in
the two burials.
In both burials, C. neritea beads were embroidered on the back
of the costume in such a way that the white base would face
outwards. The nature and distribution of the use-wear traces
suggest that each shell was sewed separately from the other and
attached to the cloth by its lip. In particular, we believe that the
pattern indicating lines of beads on the back of the body (Fig. 17)is
Fig. 10. Typical use-wear traces on carp teeth ornaments: (a) developed rounding on the fracture edge of a perforated tooth ornament (20); (b) rounding and deformation inside
the perforation hole (40); (c) rounding on the neck of a perforated tooth (30); (d) rounding inside the fracture edge of a perforated tooth (40); (e) micro-striations located on
the side of a perforated tooth (100). Note the transversal orientation with respect to the main axis of the ornament; (f) rounding on the back part of the neck edge (40).
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e34693460
highly representative of the original position these beads had on
the clothing of the deceased. The technological removal of the
convex surface of the shell (i.e. the colored body whorls) reveals
the necessity of creating a white/beige bead with a ﬂat proﬁle,
probably more functional and meaningful for the embroiderer. We
are left to speculate what kind of clothing might have borne this
embroidery pattern. It is of particular importance to stress that the
majority of ornaments forming the embroidery were securely
associated with a likely display of decorative motifs that might
have been seen from the back of these two individuals. We could
think of two different types of clothing that the patterning of
embroidery suggests: (i) a two-piece garment with a longer jacket
and trousers, both with embroidered ornaments, and with the line
of C. neritea beads possibly laced at the edge of the upper portion
of the garment, reaching down to the back of the thighs; (ii)
a cloak placed on the deceased in the same way as it would have
been worn in life. In either case, the distribution of ornaments in
burials in relation to various body zones, i.e. the fact that the string
of C. neritea is in roughly the same position on both burials,
suggests that both the adult and child might have had custom-
The question related to the previous observations is whether
such garments or cloaks were worn by the deceased as (i)
everyday, (ii) ceremonial, i.e. reserved for special/ceremonial/rite
Fig. 11. Red ochre residues and use-wear traces on carp ornaments: (a) red ochre concretion on the frontal side of the neck of an unmodiﬁed tooth from Burial H297 (40); (b) red
ochre residues (shown by the black arrows) and suspension striations on the upper part of the hole of a perforated tooth from Burial H297 (100); (c) red ochre residue on the
frontal side of the neck (shown by the black arrow) associated with transversal striations (100); (d) transversal striations (shown by the black arrows) on the frontal part of the
neck on an unmodiﬁed tooth (40); (e) ochre residues with transversal striations located on the back side of an unmodiﬁed tooth (60); (f) ochre residues with transversal
orientation on the lateral part of the neck of an unmodiﬁed tooth (50).
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e3469 3461
du passage occasions in the life course of individuals in this
community, or (iii) strictly as mortuary dress. Traces of wear on
both carp teeth and C. neritea ornaments found in both burials
suggest that the clothing was worn over a considerable period,
i.e. that these were not made for a speciﬁc mortuary event only.
Hence, such pieces of clothing might have been both everyday
and/or ceremonial. However, there remains the open question of
how one should explain the same pattern of heavy wear in the
case of those ornaments found associated with one-year-old
child H297? This young child would not have had enough time
in her/his short lifespan to create the given pattern of wear had
these ornaments been made from freshly obtained carp teeth
exclusively for her/his clothing. It is likely that the garment of the
child was either inherited from other children (in the same
family?) who wore it before her/him and/or certain beads used
on previous garments might have been recycled and placed on
a new item of clothing. Recycling ornaments from older dresses
might have been a common practice. Also, whole pieces of
clothing might have been passed to other individuals and over
generations for various reasons, acting as valuable heirlooms or
as personal or group possessions, and while worn in life, at
certain times would have been selected as a burial attire of
particular individuals. Considering practical aspects of use and
the curiously predominant concentrations associated with the
back of the body, we are inclined to think that these were more
likely cloaks (Fig. 18) than jackets and that in their form or even
meaning they might have been used similarly to examples of
‘ceremonial blankets’found in various ethnographic contexts
(e.g. Jensen and Sargent, 1986).
The pattern of decoration found in Burials H2 and H297 is not
encountered in all burials at Vlasac. There are only 15 Late
Mesolithic burials from the old and 6 from the new excavations
at this site (out of the total of 81 primary burials excavated to-
date) found with carp teeth and/or C. neritea ornaments.
Possible reasons for the observed similarities in the type of body
decoration and its patterning in the two analyzed burials
include: (i) chronologically conﬁned ‘fashion,’which character-
ized both (female) adults and children in the centuries just
before mid-7th millennium BC; (ii) mortuary treatment given to
particular individuals due to their speciﬁc social place in the
Fig. 12. Residues on carp ornaments and experimental comparison: (a) residue identiﬁed on an unmodiﬁed carp tooth from Burial H2 (50); (b) experimental residue of leather
(200); (c) residue identiﬁed on the front side of the neck of an unmodiﬁed carp tooth (500); (d) experimental residue of tendon colored with ochre (20 0); (e) residue identiﬁed
on an unmodiﬁed tooth from H2 (500); (f) Close up of an experimental leather ﬁber (500).
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e34693462
society (e.g. belonging to certain social groups); or, (iii) related to
speciﬁc circumstances of their deaths. The dating evidence
suggests that this combination of ornaments might have been
a particular Late Mesolithic custom. There is no obvious spatial
clustering of burials with ornaments across Vlasac mortuary
space to indicate a particular group’s exclusive right in displaying
such ornaments (see Fig. 2). It seems that this costume in
particular related to adult females (11 burials) and small children
and infants (4 burials), the latter perhaps also of female gender.
However, one should note that 4 burials sexed as males or
possible males were also associated with carp teeth and/or
C. nearitea ornaments (Bori
c, 2003,2011). If this type of costume
speciﬁcally marked female gender, it is signiﬁcant that a child
might have been gendered as female through speciﬁcorna-
ments/costume already at the age of one year. It is notable that
the one-year-old child, H297, had more carp teeth ornaments
attached to her/his costume than the adult female, H2. This
leaves us wondering whether this is a reﬂection of hereditary
status transmitted to this child through her/his belonging to
a high status social group and a hereditary ranking system (see
Vanhaeren and d’Errico, 2003 for an argument that favors the
interpretation of a large number of beads in terms of social
inequality) or whether the general tendency at Vlasac for more
ornaments to be associated with children than adults may relate
to symbolic/protective qualities of ornaments (cf. Miller, 2009 for
an ethnographic account).
In the European Mesolithic context, ornaments of carp teeth
have only been found in the Late Mesolithic Danube Gorges and in
the broadly contemporaneous Late Mesolithic secondary skull
burial found in the cave site of Holenstein-Stadel as well as at
several other Late Mesolithic settlement sites in Germany, dated to
z6900e6500 cal. BC (Rigaud, 2011,147e163 and references
therein). However, modiﬁcations made on carp teeth in these
different regional contexts seem to have belonged to two
completely different technological traditions: while in the Danube
Gorges carp teeth were transversally cut on their necks, modiﬁed
specimens from Holenstein-Stadel have drilled perforations on the
lateral sides of the neck. One should also note that while in the
Danube Gorges carp teeth are abundant, with several hundred
teeth found associated with primary burials, carp teeth found in
German sites account to not more than a dozen specimens found in
secondary burial contexts or settlement levels. Yet, these long-
distance similarities along the Danube course are signiﬁcant for
exploring the connectivity of Late Mesolithic communities across
It is curious that the abundant presence of carp teeth in Late
Mesolithic burials of the Danube Gorges is matched by the
surprising absence of typical Palaeolithic and Mesolithic orna-
ments made from red deer canines, widespread in Eurasia and
beyond during these periods (e.g. Newell et al., 1990;Vanhaeren
and d’Errico, 2005,2006). Red deer canines in the Danube
Gorges were only found at the Upper Palaeolithic/Epipalaeolithic
cave of Climente II and the rock-shelter of Cuina Turcului
arit, 2008: Figs. 54 and 76; P
aunescu, 1970). Thus, we
suggest that at least since the Late, if not even Early, Mesolithic, in
this region, carp teeth replace an older tradition of red deer canine
ornaments. The use of carp teeth as ornaments might have been
a local innovation of the Danube Gorges ﬁsher-forager communi-
ties. Considering signiﬁcant amounts of red deer remains in the
composition of the Vlasac faunal assemblage, this change was
clearly a cultural choice. Similar shapes of teeth from these two
different animal species might be regarded as signiﬁcant in this
context. Such an inversion with regard to the ornaments used may
represent a structural transformation of a cultural code that might
have stemmed from an inventive redeﬁnition of symbolic, myth-
ical or ethnic vocabularies. Here, these changes were reiﬁed
through symbolically charged items of material culture, such as
Presence of C. neritea ornaments in the Danube Gorges is
a proof of regional networks that connected forager communities
Fig. 13. (a) Modern specimens of C. neritea marine gastropods from the mouth of the River Po to the Adriatic Sea; (b) proﬁles of a modern C. neritea shell; (c) experimental replicas
of C. neritea beads modiﬁed through pressure.
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e3469 3463
Fig. 14. All Cyclope neritea beads found in Burials H2 and H297, Vlasac. Framed specimens found as strings of beads underneath the proximal half of the femora in both burials.
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e34693464
found at great distances across southeast Europe and beyond in
the course of the Mesolithic. Interestingly, within the Danube
Gorges region C. neritea beads have only been found in Epi-
palaeolithic levels at Cuina Turcului (M
aunescu, 1970), in an undated but possibly Late Mesolithic
context at Ostrovul Banului (M
Late Mesolithic burial contexts at Vlasac. Signiﬁcantly, the pattern
of perforation seen on Epipalaeolithic Cuina Turcului specimens is
different from examples of both Ostrovul Banului and Vlasac
C. neritea specimens, indicating a speciﬁc Late Mesolithic tech-
nological tradition in shell modiﬁcations in the case of the latter.
Probably the shortest route for these specimens to reach the
Danube Gorges is along the River Danube, with origins in the
Danube delta, at the conﬂuence into the Black Sea, bearing in
mind this species’preferential habitats (see above). However, to-
date, no isotopic or other evidence conﬁrms these assumed links
to the Lower Danube region, and, to the best of our knowledge,
there are no archaeological sites downstream from the Danube
Gorges to the Black Sea with documented C. neritea shells. On the
other hand, at Vlasac, one also ﬁnds Columbella rustica ornaments
in broadly contemporaneous, i.e. Late Mesolithic, contexts
(unpublished data). Keeping in mind the preference of C. rustica
for rocky seashores, we may possibly suggest that links and
exchange networks might have reached to some other coastal
regions too (e.g. the Adriatic or Aegean Seas, cf. Kom
c, 2011). However, the possibility that specimens of
C. neritea and C. rustica found at Vlasac might have originated in
the same coastal region should not be excluded. Different from
other regions, at Vlasac, C. neritea ornaments are characterized by
a speciﬁc technological modiﬁcation that removed the body
whorls of the shell in order to facilitate their fastening to
Fig. 15. Technological traces of pressure technique on Cyclope neritea beads from H297 and experimental comparison: (a) close-up of the irregular proﬁles of walls on an
archaeological C. neritea bead characterized by a notched outline (40); (b) proﬁle of the whorl edges of a modern C. neritea shell modiﬁed by pressure towards the inside (the black
arrows show the points where pressure was applied) (50); (c) aspect of the apex of an archaeological C. neritea bead (the black arrow shows the traces of the apex removal
operation) (50); (d) close-up of micro-chipping produced on a modern shell after the removal of the apex through a pressure applied towards the outside of the shell (40); (e)
negatives of technological removal of the apex of the C. neritea (50); (f) micro-chipping produced on an experimental C. neritea shell for removing the apex through pressure
applied towards the outside of the shell (50).
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e3469 3465
In the Balkans, C. neritea shell beads were found in abundance
in Franchthi Cave, Greece, where the tradition of C. neritea use for
body decoration can be traced back to the start of the Early Upper
Palaeolithic (Douka et al., 2011), with the same species also used
in the course of the Mesolithic (Perlès and Vanhaeren, 2010).
However, no primary burials from Franchthi are associated with
ornaments, and possible association of C. neritea and Dentalium
beads is only assumed for disarticulated remains of an infant (Fr
401) and a 3e6-year-old child (Fr 414) (Cullen, 1995, 277). In the
wider southern European context, C. neritea shell beads are
abundantly present in the areas of the central and western
Mediterranean since the Early Upper Palaeolithic (Vanhaeren
and d’Errico, 2006). In Italy, such beads were found, among
other sites, in occupation deposits of Riparo Mochi in Balzi Rosi
(Stiner, 1999) and Grotta di Fumane (Fiocchi, 1996e1997). At S.
Maria di Agnano in Puglia, C. neritea ornaments were found
associated with a Gravettian female burial (Giacobini, 2006,173;
Vacca and Coppola, 1993). The most notable examples are Late
Epigravettian burials of two children (2 and 4 years old) from the
Cave of Les Enfants, Liguria, with more than one thousand
C. neritea found on the back of the deceased, underneath the
pelvic bones (Vanhaeren and d’Errico, 2003). At La Madeleine, in
the Dordogne region, France, an infant was buried with hundreds
of Dentalium and several C. neritea shell beads, and is dated to the
Epipalaeolithic (Azilian) (Vanhaeren and d’Errico, 2001,2003). At
Grotta dei Fanciulli, one of the Grimaldi caves at the Italian-French
border, two children were buried with more than 1426 C. neritea
shell ornaments around their hips. These burials are dated to
a late phase of the Epigravettian (Henry-Gambier et al., 2001). In
the same region, at Arene Candide, the Gravettian burial known as
Fig. 16. Use-wear traces distribution pattern on Cyclope neritea beads from Burials H2 and H297: (a) rounding on the whorl edge on a C. neritea bead from H297 (30); (b) close-up
of the prominent part of the shell close to the lip showing developed rounding on a C. neritea bead from H297 (40); (c) ﬂat facet observed on the apex of a C. neritea bead from
Burial H2 (50); (d) rounding located on the lip on a C. neritea bead from H297 (30); (e) rounding developed on the inside surface of the lip of a C. neritea bead from H297 (30).
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e34693466
‘Prince’and several other Epigravettian burials were adorned by
different marine shell beads, among which were also numerous
C. neritea (Cardini, 1980).
Most of the quoted examples relate to the sites found within
a close reach of the Mediterranean Seas. In this wider regional
context, the importance and uniqueness of C. neritea specimens
found in the Danube Gorges lies in the geographical positioning of
the region, which is several hundred kilometers away from the
closest seas (as the crow ﬂies, the distance of the region to the Black
Sea along the Danube is w500 km, the shortest route to the southern
Adriatic Sea is w400 km, and to the northern Aegean Sea w500 km).
Moreover, currently, Vlasac is the only site in southeast Europe, and
one among few sites in southern Europe, where we are able to
document with certainty the use of C. neritea ornaments in burials.
Analyzed ornaments from the two burials indicate a combined
use of carp pharyngeal teeth as local and C.neritea shells as exotic
types of ornaments in Late Mesolithic Vlasac of the Danube Gorges
region. A Mesolithic adult and a child buried with ornaments
exhibit a very similar pattern of embroidery, which is the ﬁrst such
secure evidence for the whole of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic of
southeast Europe. The observed pattern of embroidery, consisting
of a large number of carp teeth ornaments, might have character-
ized a garment/cloak worn by women and children in particular in
this community. The pattern of developed wear on all ornaments
suggests that the embroidered items of wear were used over
a considerable time, possibly being of ceremonial signiﬁcance. Clear
traces of red ochre residues on the ‘necks’of carp teeth ornaments
suggest that ochre-stained leather and tendon tissues were used for
fastening them onto clothing. The combination of numerous
ornamental appliqués ‘sticking out’and extensively covering
primarily the back of the wearers, along with the red color of treads,
might have produced a striking visual impact.
Fig. 18. A reconstruction of cloak-type embroidered garment worn by adult females
and children at Late Mesolithic Vlasac on the basis of ornaments’distributions in
Burials H2 and H297 (drawing: Mauro Cutrona).
Fig. 17. Reconstruction of the patterning of carp teeth and Cyclope neritea ornaments
on Burials H2 (above) and H297 (below).
E. Cristiani, D. Bori
c / Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012) 3450e3469 3467
The research presented here and paper writing took place in the
course of the Hunt Fellowship of the Wenner Gren Foundation (DB
for 2010) and a Wenner Gren post-doctoral fellowship (EC for 2011).
The authors are grateful to the Foundation for their generous
research funding. The ﬁeld project at the site of Vlasac from 2006 to
2009 was supported by the British Academy (SG-42170 and LRG-
45589), McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University
of Cambridge and Leverhulme Trust funded Programme “Changing
Beliefs of the Human Body: Comparative Social Perspective,”based
at the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge. We are
grateful to Ana Belén Marin-Arroyo, Ignacio Clemente Conte, Marco
Peresani, Krish Seetah and four anonymous reviewers for their
constructive comments on earlier versions of this paper.
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