Bone And Antler Artefacts

All of the bone and antler artefacts from Church Hole are in the British Museum and are parts of the Christy collection.

Figure 7.12/1 was identified by Dawkins as having been made from the transverse process of a lumbar vertebra either of a wild horse or other large herbivore (1877: 604). This object is now incomplete, probably due to excavation breakage and the depression on one face is also damage and not an uncompleted perforation. The bone fragment has been trimmed to an ovoid outline. There appear to be up to nineteen remaining, irregularly spaced, notches, but damage makes an accurate count difficult. The margin between the notches is rounded in profile, but it is unclear whether this rounding is due to preliminary shaping or use. Ann Sieveking interpreted this object as a pendant (1987: 101), as did Jenkinson (1984: 108), but an alternative identification might be as a serrated-edge flesher (see also Campbell 1977: 184). Its size would have made it ideal for use on the pelts of small animals such as mountain hares. Another suggestion made during the writing of this chapter was that it resembles a thread-winder. Identification as part of a sewing kit would ally it with the bone needle and awls also found in the cave.

Fig. 7.12. Church Hole bone artefacts: flesher; needle; awls

The eyed needle (Fig. 7.12/2) was found on 21 June 1876 in undisturbed 'red earth... opposite to inner side of branch', that is, in line with the inner or southern wall of the entrance to 'chamber B' (Dawkins n.d., 1876). It cannot have been very far from where Heath reports finding 'three bone needles' (1879: 10). Had there been a cache?

The needle is 75.8 mm in length with a subrectangular cross-section changing from being broader and Xatter at the upper end to more nearly square near the tip, which in turn is slightly thicker than it is broad. The eye is offset and the perforation bi-conical.

Needles of late Upper Palaeolithic age are known from Cathole (Swansea: Green 1984: fig. 10.g), Gough's Cave, and Kent's Cavern (Jacobi 2004: fig. 39.3). Each appears to have been made from thin-walled bone and in the collection from Gough's Cave there is evidence for production of needles from bones of whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) and mountain hare. By contrast, the needle from Church Hole is thicker (3.7 mm maximum thickness) and has clearly been cut from a large mammal bone. As already noted, there is from

Robin Hood Cave the remnant of a needle-core made on a right metacarpal of reindeer and the anterior face of this bone appears to be of about the appropriate thickness.

Figures 7.12/3 and 7.12/4 are awls made by pointing the distal end of a mountain hare tibia. Figure 7.12/3 has been made from a left tibia and Figure 7.12/4 from a right tibia. Jenkinson (1984: 108) has expressed doubts that the larger piece is in fact an artefact and instead interpreted it as a carnivore gnawed bone. However, it is apparent that this awl has suffered an accident after it came into the Christy Collection and its pointed end, now lost, is clearly shown in illustrations by Dawkins (1877: fig. 5) and in the Christy Slip Catalogue. This has been restored on Figure 7.12/4. The marks on its shaft have nothing to do with carnivore damage, but are evidence of longitudinal scraping to remove the periosteum. As on several of the pointed tibiae from Gough's Cave the lateral condyle has been broken away to give a more comfortable grip and this break surface has become rounded through handling—as has the former contact of the fibula. An interesting feature of this artefact is the presence of some root-marking, perhaps suggesting that it had been found towards the cave entrance.

The fragment (Fig. 7.12/4) is from a tibia which has clearly been divided by means of oblique incisions beginning on its external margin just above the former contact of the fibula and emerging much lower down on the medial face, which has then been scraped to a point. Again, this technique has been observed on awls from Gough's Cave.

Awls made from the tibiae of mountain hares occur in late Upper Palaeolithic contexts at Gough's Cave (Gray in Parry 1929: pl. XX, 3, 7, and 8; Parry 1931: fig. 2.2), Pin Hole (Kitching 1963: pl. 41(a)) and Robin Hood Cave. Single examples from Gough's Cave and Robin Hood Cave have been directly dated (Hedges et al. 1994):

Gough's Cave 0xA-4107 Mountain hare, pointed tibia 12,550 + 130 bp Robin Hood Cave OxA-3416 Mountain hare, pointed tibia 12,580 + 110 bp Both determinations are older than any of those for artefacts and bones from Church Hole (Table 7.4) and it is worth considering whether the two awls from Church Hole might be indicators of a slightly earlier start to late Upper Palaeolithic human use of this cave than is apparent from the existing radiocarbon determinations.

The three pieces of worked antler on Figure 7.13 were combined by Garrod into a single artefact—a 'rod' with 'scoops' at both ends (1926: fig. 31.6). This was, apparently, on the advice of Abbe Breuil (ibid.: 135 n.). A similar reconstruction was made by Campbell (1977: fig. 143.3) who identified the

object as a 'point' or 'spatula' (1977: 184). Jenkinson described the resulting artefact as a 'double ended gouge' (1984: 108).

It seems more probable, however, that these three pieces are parts of two artefacts, although the break surfaces of the two pieces which have been associated (Fig. 7.13/1) are very worn and a clear contact cannot now be made. What these artefacts may have been like when intact is suggested by the find of a complete example from Fox Hole Cave at High Wheeldon in the White Peak of Derbyshire. This has been illustrated by Bramwell (1977: fig. 51.5) and McComb (1989: fig. 4.15(d)). Also made from reindeer antler, it is a rod with sub-circular cross-section tapering from a maximum diameter at the lower (proximal) end of 11.3 mm to a diameter of 8.2 mm at its distal end. Its length is 320 mm and it is gently curved in longitudinal profile, this being, perhaps, post-depositional distortion. At its upper, more slender, end is a scoop or short groove. This is damaged, but has a surviving length of 23.7 mm. At its lower end is a double-bevel whose transverse profile is slightly

Table 7.8. Radiocarbon determinations relevant to the dating of reindeer antler 'foreshafts'

Lab. no.



Church Hole

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