Informal But Specialized: Mousterian Bone Hideworking Tools from Combe-Grenal (Dordogne, France)

Main Article Content

Elise Tartar
Alexandra Legrand-Pineau
Emilie Claud
Sandrine Costamagno
Emmanuel Discamps
Jean-Philippe Faivre


The emergence and subsequent development of bone tool technologies represents an important step in the evolution of human behavior. Here we present a technological, morphometric and functional analysis of ten bone tools with smoothed ends from the Quina and Levallois levels of the Mousterian site of Combe-Grenal (Dordogne, France). The ends of these shaft fragments were first abraded and then used to work dry, defleshed hides in order to render them softer and more flexible. We identified three morpho-functional tool types that were probably used in different hide softening stages. Several examples of each tool type were also used as retouchers to shape and resharpen stone tools that were likely used during the same hide processing stages. These informal, expedient but specialized bone tools therefore potentially represent a complete toolkit for softening hides. While use-wear analysis of stone tools most often provides information concerning the initial stages of hide processing, the Combe-Grenal bone tools show this process was at times both complex and sophisticated, allowing for the creation of a wide range of items, particularly clothing to guard against the cold and inclement weather. Until now, this level of technical sophistication was considered unique to anatomically modern humans. In addition, our study demonstrates the significant informative potential of informal bone tools for better understanding the complexity and diversity of Neanderthal behavior. By shedding light on activities with typically weak archeological signatures, these informal tools provide new insights concerning the technical responses of Neanderthal groups to fulfill specific needs. Finally, our results highlight the need to better document the role of bone as a raw material for Neanderthal groups in order to explore the socio-economic mechanisms that gave rise to complex bone and antler-based technologies during the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition.

Article Details