Beads during the Neolithic were often broken in the drilling process. Therefore the polishing of the beads was done after successful drilling of a hole in a grinding stone. A typical Neolithic hand grinding stone is shown here.

Polishing is the process of creating a smooth and shiny surface by rubbing it or using a chemical action. Polishing of organic or inorganic rough outs or chipped stone artifacts, functionally improved the characteristics of tools that were used for domestic purposes and the hunt. Polishing may have had not only a functional but also an aesthetic function, but we do not know whether the latter dimension was of real interest for prehistoric man.

After1994,eight carefully polished wooden spears were found at Schöningen, lower Saxonia, Germany, along with stone tools and the butchered remains of more than 10 horses.  The Schöningen site represents the earliest secure evidence of large game hunting.  Schöningen 13II−4, is dated to an interglacial some 300-400 k.a. ago. The  frontal center of gravity of these spears suggests that they were used as javelins and not as thrusting spears as suggested by proponents of a “Prehistoric man before Sapiens was probably not always a scavenger, but if he or she hunted, he or she was not able to throw a spear over wider distances….-theory”.

The oldest polished bone tools during the Paleolithic are from the MSA of South Africa. At Blobos, about 20 pieces of worked bone were uncovered from the Still-Bay Layers. These bones (which are probably from seal) have been shaped to use for the purposes of piercing, gouging, or drilling. Two of these bone tools were worked into points by polishing and grinding, and possibly firing. One of these points even appears to have been polished with ochre. It has to be mentioned that, polished bone, antler and ivory tools became only common during the Upper Paleolithic.

The word ‘Neolithic’ was first coined by Sir John Lubbock in 1865 and 1869. Few data about the Stone Age were available to archaeologists at this time. Megalithic monuments; the Swiss lake dwellings and Danish shell middens; river gravels or ‘drift’ in the Somme and other valleys, that contained handaxes and the bones of extinct mammals; and the bone caves of France and, Britain that contained reindeer and extinct mammals associated with artifacts. The question was how to arrange these data groups in time. In the second edition of Pre-historic times of 1869 Lubbock defines his periods:

  1. “That of the Drift; when man shared the possession of Europe with the Mammoth, the Cave Bear, the Woolly-haired rhinoceros, and other extinct animals. This we may call the ‘Palaeolithic’ period.
  2. The later or Polished Stone Age; a period characterized by beautiful weapons and instruments made of flint and other kinds of stone; in which, however, we find no trace of the knowledge of any metal. This we may call the ‘Neolithic’ period.”

It is reported, that the earliest polished stone tools may have been produced during the Paleolithic of South China and Japan (adzes and axes), dated to around 30-20 k.a. BP. Unfortunately I have no access to any detailed article about this topic, which may have appeared in a peer-reviewed journal in English or French. For me it seems reasonable, that polishing stone artifacts may have occurred before the Neolithic, because the polishing technique was already well developed.

A “must” about Schöningen 13II−4:



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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome! About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University. Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.
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One Response to Polishing

  1. Craig Riedl says:

    Beads are best rounded to shape and polished after the holes are drilled. They are then strung on fiber to form a tight column of sorts. The column is then rolled at at angle across a flat stone to round out the beads. A finer grained stone can be used to get a finer polish and then if desired can be pulled many times through a cloth or hide rubbed with a mineral polishing medium such as red ocher.
    With modern equipment the drilled pieces are strung on a straight wire and held against rotating polishing wheels from rough to very fine.

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