African Archaeological Review

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 173–198 | Cite as

Barbed Bone Points: Tradition and Continuity in Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa

  • John E. Yellen


Examination of African barbed bone points recovered from Holocene sites provides a context to interpret three Late Pleistocene occurrences from Katanda and Ishango, Zaire, and White Paintings Shelter, Botswana. In sites dated to ca. 10,000 BP and younger, such artifacts are found widely distributed across the Sahara Desert, the Sahel, the Nile, and the East African Lakes. They are present in both ceramic and aceramic contexts, sometimes associated with domesticates. The almost-universal presence of fish remains indicates a subsistence adaptation which incorporates a riverine/lacustrine component. Typologically these points exhibit sufficient similarity in form and method of manufacture to be subsumed within a single African “tradition.” They are absent at Fayum, where a distinct Natufian form occurs. Specimens dating to ca. 20,000 BP at Ishango, possibly a similar age at White Paintings Shelter, and up to 90,000 BP at Katanda clearly fall within this same African tradition and thus indicate a very long-term continuity which crosses traditionally conceived sub-Saharan cultural boundaries.

L'étude des pointes barbelées en os del' Holocène africaine fournit un contexte à l'interprétation de trois gisements du Pleistocene superieure, notamment, Katanda et Ishango (en République Démocratique du Congo, ex-Zaire), et White Paintings Shelter au Botswana. Cettes pointes ont une distribution étendue à travers le Sahara, le Sahel, le Nil et les grands lacs du rift d'Afrique orientale, notamment sur certains sites datant de 10,000 ans avant notre ère. Ces pointes sont associées avec des types d'industries céramiques ou acéramiques, avec ou sans squelettes de faune domestiques, mais toujours avec des squelettes de poisson, indiquent une subsistence comportant des ressources lacustres ou riveraines. Sur le plan typologique, cettes pointes présentent une telle ressemblance, soit de forme, soit de manufacture, qu'elles constituent une tradition unique africaine. Au Fayum en Egypte, les formes des pointes rappellent, par contre, plutôt les series Natufiennes du Levant. Les pointes barbelées d'Ishango, datant de 20,000 ans environ, celles de White Paintings Shelter, datant probablement de la même époque, et celles de Katanda datant au maximum de 90,000 ans BP, appartiennent à la même tradition africaine, ce qu montre ainsi l'existence d'une continuité de très longue durée àtravers les frontières culturelles traditionelles.

barbed bone points Africa Upper Pleistocene Holocene Katanda Ishango 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • John E. Yellen
    • 1
  1. 1.National Science FoundationArlington

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