Notched Points during the late Paleolithic and Mesolithic of Europe

harpoon aggsbach

This is a notched bone point (16 cm long) of unknown age. The base is  flattened, thus indicating that it was produced for permanent hafting. Points with a row of fine oblique teeth. (Kunda type point) first appeared during the Middle Magdalenian of the greater Aquitaine and were mainly replaced by barbed points  during the Upper /Late Magdalenian over large Parts of Europe. Anyhow, Notches Points , like the one shown here, had their great appearance during the Preboreal and Boreal  N/W-Europe.

Paleogeographic investigations of the Baltic region at the Pleistoceine / Holocene Boundary have demonstrated that reindeer was almost exclusively found in the Younger Dryas, while products of moose bone and antler were associated with the Allerød , as well as the early Boreal Friesland-Dryas IV climatic oscillations .

Notched and barbed  points may be classified either as “fixed,” when permanently attached to a spear or arrow shaft, or as “harpoons” (sensu strictu) when they separate from a shaft on impact and remain attached to it by line. Barbs and notches ensured that the point stayed embedded in the flesh of the animal once it was harpooned.

A permanently hafted point, for which shafts of light woods and tips of harder materials are preferentially used, has several advantages. The projectiles have a more secure trajectory and because of their hardness can penetrate even thick bones without losing their functionality and needing to be repaired. For hafting, the base of the barbed or notched points has generally been more or less flattened and rejuvenated towards the end in order to increase the stability of the connection. The connection itself can be achieved through a socket, with sinew, bast and other plant fibres  and/or through resins, pitch or tar .

An ethnography shows a clear functional trend: « simple » barbed points are mostly used for fowling, for hunting big and small land game, and for war; while « true » harpoons are mostly used for fishing and hunting sea mammals and aquatic mammals.

A survey of the archaeological literature shows, that the  functional characterization of Paleolithic and Mesolithic notched and barbed points was not successful till now. This survey shows that notched and barbed points do not present a preferential association with one type of game, and that they cannot be interpreted as harpoon heads on a simple morphological basis. According to the ethnographic data, the list of their possible functions is even longer than once expected. Indeed, we even should not no  a priori dismiss the use of barbed and notched points as weapons in violent human conflicts.

Suggested Readings:

Mesolithic Times at the Baltic sea

Stone Age after the Stone Age: Arctic Bone Harpoon

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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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