Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 3-1 (November 2011)Wietske Prummel; Hülya Halici; Annemieke Verbaas: The bone and antler tools from the Wijnaldum-Tjitsma terp 1

6 The bone tools used in the five occupation phases

6.1 Roman period

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Eight of the 12 worked bones from the Roman period are divination or playing tools. Seven of them are cattle and sheep astragali that are worn and polished from use. This is the largest number of used astragali in any of the five phases (tables 1 and 4). The other object connected with ritual or symbolic use is an unfinished red deer antler amulet or pendant.

Only one tool from this period may be connected with fibre or skin processing. It is a cattle metatarsus that is worn at the proximal end and has shiny surfaces as a result of handling and the contact with soft materials.

A unique find is a round sieve (diameter 7.9 cm; thickness 0.3 cm) made from the flat part of a cattle scapula (fig. 31). It was found in a sod structure in which metal working was done, but was probably unrelated to that. It has no traces of contact with fire and sieves are not normally used in metal working (S. Pelsmaeker, pers. comm.). So it is likely that this sieve had a domestic use. The last bone tool from the Roman period is part of a handle made out of a horse metatarsus.

6.2 Migration period

Pin beaters, needles and two awls testify to fibre and possibly skin working during the Migration period. This phase is rich in one- and two-sided composite combs and fragments of broken composite combs. The only type 4 one-sided composite comb, with straight, narrow side plates and winged end tooth plates, and the only complete two-sided composite comb were found in this phase.

Three astragali and two die (fig. 20) and perhaps the three antler rings (fig. 15) could be linked to ritual and magic. Two of the astragali are from very young calves, as indicated by the small size and the porous structure of the bones. Both are perforated from plantar to dorsal (fig. 19). The third is from a young sheep (or goat) and has traces of being worked. The two die – the only two at the site – are made out of sheep metatarsi (table 5; fig. 20).

Two skates and an antler checker demonstrate leisure activities. However, skating may have been a form of transport. Six pieces of waste red deer and elk antler show that antler was processed at the site during this phase.

6.3 Merovingian period

This phase is very rich in processed bone and antler. Fibre and skin production is attested to by numerous tools (tables 1 and 4). Antler combs are common in this phase. The only complete one-sided composite comb is of type 2, with wide, curved side plates and non-extended end tooth plates. In this phase pendants and astragali were used as amulets. A checker is related to leisure activities, as is a flute made from a whooper or a mute swan ulna and perhaps a sawn cattle costa. Skating for leisure or transport is attested to by several skates and bone tips.

Household utensils are quite numerous in this phase. This may be an indication of rich and well-supplied households. The only two spoons found at Wijnaldum-Tjitsma come from this period. One was made out of antler (fig. 29), the other from the frontal bone of a calf foetus or neonatus. The bone was cut in a round shape (fig. 30, suggesting use as a spoon. Calf foetus cranial bones are regularly found in terpen, for instance in the early medieval phase at the of Birdaard-Roomschotel terp (Grefhorst & Prummel 2010). However, a worked and used frontal bone from a calf foetus is unique. Spoons were not found in any other terp (see below) and may have been prestigious objects, only used in rich households in this period. Silver spoons were found in the Sutton Hoo and Prittlewell burials, which also contained lyres (Carver et al. 2005, figs 88 and 99, table 21; Hirst 2004, 28-29). A decorated cattle bone plate was possibly used as inlaid decoration of furniture. A handle made from red deer antler was intended for a knife or another tool. A sawn cattle horn core shows that cattle horn was processed. Two antler waste pieces indicate antler working during this period.

6.4 Carolingian period

The bone and antler tools from this period resemble those from the Merovingian period. Fibre and skins were processed with bone and antler tools. The inhabitants used combs, astragali and amulets or pendants in ritual or magic, made music with a cattle costa and made an (unfinished) flute out of sheep tibia. One of the inhabitants possessed a little box made from a cattle long bone, perhaps to store a precious object or make-up. A decorated bone plate was presumably a piece of furniture decoration.

The two complete one-sided composite combs from this phase are of type 2 and 3. Type 2 was already known in the Merovingian period. Type 3, with straight, narrow side plates and extended end tooth plates, was presumably introduced at the site during the Carolingian period. It was also found in the Ottonian period. This is the only comb type at the site in which cattle and sheep bone were used (table 3). No two-sided composite combs were found in the Carolingian period.

6.5 Ottonian period

The bone and antler tools from the Ottonian phase attest to fibre and skin processing and the use of combs. There were two one-sided type 3 composite combs and one type 5, which has straight, narrow side plates and tooth plates extending above the side plates.

No worn, shiny and thus used astragali were found and there was only one antler pendant. The use of amulets had presumably come to an end in this period, in which Christianity became firmly established in the north of the Netherlands (Knol 1993).

Whereas skates and tips of skating sticks were common in this phase, musical intruments and household utensils are completely lacking. The last two groups indicate the existence of rich households in the Merovingian and Carolingian periods. No proof exists that bone and/or antler processing was done at the site during this period.

6.6 Diachronous development of bone and antler tools at Wijnaldum-Tjitsma

Fig. 34 shows the development in time of the bone and antler tools used at the terp. Fibre and skin working tools are not very numerous in the Roman period. They increase in the Migration period and are very numerous in the Merovingian period. This suggests intensified fibre and skin working in the Migration and later periods, especially in the Merovingian period. Personal utensils, mainly combs, were introduced at the terp in the Migration period. Their numbers stayed quite constant during the Merovingian, Carolingian and Ottonian periods.


Figure 34 Representation of the groups of bone and antler tools at Wijnaldum-Tjitsma in the five periods.

Amulets were very popular during the Roman period, after which there is a decline. Musical instruments made of bone or antler were only used during the Merovingian and Carolingian periods. This may be related to elite inhabitants at the terp during these periods. Household utensils, including the unique sieve, were rather numerous during the Roman period and may be indicative of high status. Some remarkable tools, such as a box, spoons and handles, are among the household utensils from the Merovingian and Carolingian periods and may also be related to elite inhabitants. Skates, skate point tips and a sledge runner were only found in the Migration and later periods. These tools were obviously introduced during the Migration period. They are especially well represented in the Ottonian period.