Quantitative 3-D analysis of bone tools sheds light on ancient manufacture and use

November 7, 2018, Public Library of Science
Material wear on bone over time. Credit: Martisius et al., 2018

Quantitative three-dimensional analysis of bone wear patterns can provide insight into the manufacture and use of early human tools, according to a study by Naomi Martisius of the University of California at Davis and colleagues, published November 7 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Humans have been using tools for at least 2 million years, and by approximately 100 thousand years ago, were manufacturing them with formal processes such as grinding and scraping. Ancient bone tools carry marks of their manufacture and use, which can provide information about the group of people that made the tools and the specific uses to which tools were put. Microscopy has been used to study these marks, but the study of use-wear on bone tools requires a comparative body of quantitative examples of wear over time and contact with different materials, to ensure that these studies are replicable. In the current study, the authors sought to determine the basics of use-wear formation over time by taking incremental molds of bone specimens subjected to a controlled, mechanical experiment.

The authors initially shaped bone with sandstone or flint, or left it unshaped, and then used it to work fresh skin, leather, or bark, all while taking sequential surface scans using confocal microscopy, to generate three-dimensional data for a quantitative Bayesian analysis. While individual samples of bone varied in both texture and structure, they found that duration of use was the largest and most unequivocal determinant affecting the surface of the bone. Fresh skin was the most abrasive of the three materials, and the degree of wear correlated with duration of use for working skin.

Further refinement of the specific methodological techniques may be needed to fully investigate correlations that link shaping and target material to observed wear patterns. However, the study provides a proof of principle for application of quantitative measures to bone wear analysis. The novel technique provides a possible alternative to current methods of bone wear , which are largely qualitative and dependent on expert interpretation.

Martisius adds: "If we want to understand how ancient humans used , we need to understand what the traces left on the tools mean. We tested manufacturing and use variables over time using a for looking at these traces, and by extension, at human behavior"

Explore further: Bone knife from Morocco is oldest specialized tool associated with Aterian culture

More information: Martisius NL, Sidéra I, Grote MN, Steele TE, McPherron SP, Schulz-Kornas E (2018) Time wears on: Assessing how bone wears using 3D surface texture analysis. PLoS ONE 13(11): e0206078. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0206078

Related Stories

New approach measures early human butchering practices

December 6, 2017

Researchers, led by a Purdue University anthropology professor, have found that statistical methods and 3D imaging can be used to accurately measure animal bone cut marks made by prehistoric human butchery, and to help answer ...

Recommended for you

Excavators find tombs buried in Bolivia 500 years ago

November 17, 2018

Archaeologists say they found tombs at a Bolivian quarry containing remains from more than 500 years ago that give an insight into the interaction of various peoples with the expanding Inca empire.

Preventing chemical weapons as sciences converge

November 15, 2018

Alarming examples of the dangers from chemical weapons have been seen recently in the use of industrial chemicals and the nerve agent sarin against civilians in Syria, and in the targeted assassination operations using VX ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.