It is highly questionable if the typological names of prehistoric stone tools are reliable in terms of understanding their function. For example a “scraper” can also be a cutting tool or a core. In the case of drills and borers, there is satisfactory evidence from use-trace analysis that these implements indeed served to drill holes.
Drilling holes was an important innovation during human evolution, first used during the Paleolithic to:
- Perforate things of the natural world, especially shells, which were probably loaded with symbolic meaning and could have been part of necklaces. First examples are from the Levallois-Mousterian (Tabun C type) in Israel (Skhul and Qafzeh), from the MSA of South Africa (Blombos Cave and Sibudu) and the Aterian of Northern Africa (Grotte des Pigeons site near Taforalt, Morocco; Oued Djebbana in Algeria) This technique became common during the Ahmarian of the Levant and during the Protoaurignacian of South Europe. The European Early Aurignacian shows many items of perforated animal (and human!) teeth and beadwork summarized by M. Vanhaeren and F. d’Errico recently (Journal of Archaeological Science 33 (2006) 1105-1128). Beadworks thereafter are constants in human societies worldwide.
- Perforate skins and furs as a prerequisite in the production of tight clothes, non-visible in the Paleolithic archaeological record.
- Perforate ornamental, non-natural preformed devices. At Kostenki 17, Layer II (40 k.a BP) ornaments of stone, which were perforated with a hand operated rotary drill were detected. A famous example of sculptural art objects are the ornithomorphic figures in mammoth ivory most probably depicting “flying swans” of Malta and Buret (18-15 k.a BP). Here the rounded end of the animals’ body has a drilled hole, which allowed using the figurines as pendants. Another famous example are the stylized Magdalenian female figurines of S/W-Germany (Petersfels, Neuchâtel-Monruz).