Organic technology in the Pastoral Neolithic: osseous and eggshell artefacts from Luxmanda, Tanzania

Abstract

Hard animal materials were key components of prehistoric daily life, with many such raw materials shaped into diverse tool types and personal ornaments. With few exceptions, outside of the far south and north of Africa, osseous artefacts have been largely understudied on the continent, with this situation particularly applying to pastoralist contexts. Well-documented worked bone, ivory, or ostrich eggshell (OES) assemblages tend to be associated with hunter-gatherers and are generally interpreted with reference to contemporary hunter-gatherer toolkits. Study of osseous and OES technologies used by ancient or modern pastoralist populations, on the other hand, remains in its infancy. In this paper, we present an analysis of 14 worked bone, ivory, and OES artefacts from the Pastoral Neolithic site of Luxmanda located in north-central Tanzania. We apply technological trace analysis to understand histories of manufacture, use, and discard and compare our findings against the corpus of osseous and eggshell technologies recovered from terminal Pleistocene through Holocene sites of eastern Africa, providing a synthesis of this region for the first time. Finally, we explore the limited record for comparable technologies in recent pastoralist communities and argue that forager/food producer distinctions based on organic technologies are neither present nor meaningful based on current evidence.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    “cal BP” indicates a calibrated date before present. Dates from Luxmanda were calibrated using the SHCal13 curve (Hogg et al. 2013), and uncalibrated dates are presented in Grillo et al. (in press).

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Acknowledgements

Fieldwork at Luxmanda was conducted in collaboration with Drs. Audax Mabulla and Agness Gidna of the National Museum of Tanzania. Permits were granted by the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH 2013-196-NA-2012-50, 2015-119-ER-2012-50) and the Antiquities Division (Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism). The 2013 season was supported by grants to MEP by the National Geographic Society (9059-12) and to MEP and A. Mabulla by the Wenner-Gren Foundation (ICRG-111). The 2015 season was supported by a Faculty Research Grant to KMG and support from the College of Liberal Studies at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. MEP was supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship and by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study during the writing of this paper. We are particularly grateful to our hosts in the village of Luxmanda. We thank Steven Goldstein for comments on an early draft of this manuscript and Peter Robertshaw for permission to reproduce his drawing. We gratefully acknowledge two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on this paper. All errors or omissions are our own.

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Langley, M.C., Prendergast, M.E. & Grillo, K.M. Organic technology in the Pastoral Neolithic: osseous and eggshell artefacts from Luxmanda, Tanzania. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 1–14 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-017-0528-z

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Keywords

  • Bone technology
  • Worked bone
  • Ivory
  • OES
  • Ornamentation
  • Projectile technology
  • Pastoralism
  • East Africa