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Middle Paleolithic Bone Retouchers: Size or Proportions

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Bone retouchers are the most common tools for processing lithic raw material in the Middle Paleolithic of Eurasia. Typically, they are perceived by Paleolithic researchers as informal, unmodified tools made from bone blanks accidentally obtained during the extraction of marrow. In this article, we introduce new data on a large collection of bone retouchers from Chagyrskaya Cave (in the Altai Mountains). Their dimensions demonstrate a high standardization of blanks, indicating the intentional selectivity of Neanderthals. Selection also concerned animal species and the anatomical positions of bones. We found that morphological characteristics such as the number of active areas and the degree of their modification did not affect the size of the retouchers and attest only to the reorientation of tools during lithic processing. In the course of retouching, cross-sections of diagnostic traces in the active areas underwent significant changes: whereas at the early stages they reveal “furrows” with V-shaped cross-sections, multiple blows against the processed lithic resulted in the deformation of the original form, which eventually resembled an upturned trapeze. The comparison of bone retouchers from several multicultural Middle Paleolithic complexes in Eurasia (Chagyrskaya and Denisova caves in the Altai, Kabazi V site in the Crimea, and Barakayevskaya Cave in the Caucasus) evidences similar proportions but considerable variation in size. Proportions, then, are an inherent functional characteristic of bone retouchers, which does not depend on either the cultural context or the raw material base.

About the Authors

K. A. Kolobova
Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences
Russian Federation

Leading Researcher.

Pr. Akademika Lavrentieva 17, Novosibirsk, 630090

A. S. Kolyasnikova
Novosibirsk State University
Russian Federation

 Laboratory Assistant.

Pirogova 1, Novosibirsk, 630090

V. P. Chabai
Institute of Archaeology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine


Pr. Geroyiv Stalingrada, 12, Kyiv, 04210

P. V. Chistyakov
Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences
Russian Federation

Junior Researcher.

Pr. Akademika Lavrentieva 17, Novosibirsk, 630090

M. Baumann
Bordeaux University, UMR 5199, PACEA laboratory, Bat. B18

Postdoctoral Researcher.

Allee Geoffroy St-Hilaire CS 50023, 33615 Pessac cedex

S. V. Markin
Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences
Russian Federation

Leading Researcher, Department Head.

Pr. Akademika Lavrentieva 17, Novosibirsk, 630090

A. I. Krivoshapkin
Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences; Altai State University
Russian Federation

Director IAE; Department Chair, NSU.

Pr. Akademika Lavrentieva 17, Novosibirsk, 630090; Pr. Lenina 61, Barnaul, 656049


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For citation:

Kolobova K.A., Kolyasnikova A.S., Chabai V.P., Chistyakov P.V., Baumann M., Markin S.V., Krivoshapkin A.I. Middle Paleolithic Bone Retouchers: Size or Proportions. Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia. 2020;48(4):14-26.

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