Polyhedrons / Spheroids / Bola Stones

This is a Spheroid/Polyhedron from the Acheulian of central France. Such findings are found in old middle Pleistocene river terraces together with large quantities of Bifaces.

A Spheroid/Polyhedron is a blocky core  with more than one discrete worked edge. Polyhedral shaping  is carried out in relation  to a virtual point of balance around which the volume of the piece is more or less equally distributed. The method consists in striking off non-contiguous flakes from opposite directions, the intersection of the removals forming an angle of more than 90° . This ensures that the thickness of the artifact will be preserved and at the same time creates the ridges that are typical of the true polyhedron. The wider the angles, the closer the polyhedral form comes to being a Spheroid.

It is possible to obtain a Bola from a polyhedron. In this case all ridges / facets are crushed by pecking  in order to obtain a perfect sphere / stone-ball. Polyhedrons, spheroids and bolas may represent different stages of a single chaîne opératoire. Technically, polyhedral and spheroidal shaping is carried out by direct percussion with a hard hammer. The transformation of a polyhedron into a spheroid, or even more so, that of a spheroid into a bola, is achieved through pecking, with a shift in techniques : first direct percussion and then pecking. If this technological sequence was intentional or not remains an open question.

Functionally, Stone balls if made from relatively soft stones like limestone may serve as Percuteurs for shaping other tools, especially scrapers. This situation was reconstructed at the Middle Paleolithic at Jonzac, France, where Limestone balls were used in shaping bifacial Quina artifacts.

Another functional possibility could be the use of Polyhedrons / Spheroids as Hammer-stones that were used for buttering/pounding purposes  processing vegetal material and/or tendering meat. Analysis of damage and residues on pitted stones from Lower Paleolithic contexts at Gesher Benot Ya’acov suggests these tools were used to crush seeds and to crack nuts. Anyhow, most often  Polyhedrons were simply exhausted cores.

Stone Balls are called Bola stones and are ethnographic hunting weapons consisting of sets of stones individually wrapped in leather pouches that are linked together at the ends of ropes and thrown at fleeing animal prey. During the early Paleolithic they may have been used  in capturing animals or as  effective throwing stones (Leakey 1931).

An enigmatic structure of approximately 60 spheroidal stone balls which formed a regular cone 75 cm high and 1,50 m in diameter was recovered from a fossil spring at the MSA site of El-Guettar. If this ensemble was embedded in a symbolic context or was caused by taphonomic processes remains unclear.

Polyhedral and spheroidal shaping appears very early on, in the Oldowan period, and endures throughout the Acheulean. In East Africa the Oldowan industries dating to 2,6-1,5 m.a. are  characterized by simple technologies consisting of cores made on pebbles or chunks (choppers, discoids, polyhedrons, heavy‐duty scrapers, facetted spheroids and polyhedrons), debitage (flakes and fragments), and more rarely, irregular retouched pieces.  The best contextualized but isolated location for a Olduvan in North Africa remains the site of Aïn Hanech, near Sétif in northern Algeria, and the nearby  site of El-Kherba. Both sites exhibit an Oldowan ensemble, dated to at least 1,2 Ma. Looking to Eurasia, Polyhedrons / Spheroids are rare but present in the early Mode-I industries of South Europe.

Currently Polyhedrons have not be recognized from the  3.3-million-year-old stone tool ensemble  from. Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya.

Polyhedrons and  spheroids are an invariable part of the African / Near Eastern Acheulean. Good documented examples come from Kalambo Falls, Olorgesailie, Isimila, Nadaouyieh Aïn Askar,  Thomas and STIC Quarries (Casablanca),  Kariandusi, Latamne and Ubeidiya, Litpur, Bose…

While Spheroids/Polyhedrons are known from the European Lower Paleolithic, especially from the large surface collections from S/W-France and the Quartzite Acheulean in Northern Hessen, their appearance in stratified context is extremly rare- one example is Arago (MIS 14). Perfect Bolas to my knowledge  are absent during the Estlands and middle Paleolithic in Europe.

A very interesting ensemble of stone balls was found in the Amudian layers at Qesem Cave in Israel.  Here stone balls were found mostly concentrated in particular locations in the south-western part of the cave in the lower part of the stratigraphic sequence. Anyhow, the activities that took place here remain enigmatic.

Last but not least some observations from the field by L.S.B. Leakey:

“The important thing about the Olorgesailie site, however, was the finding of bolas stones in groups of three in situ, and not merely lying on the surface. Ten sealed living sites were found there, and groups of bolas stones were found on several of these associated with handaxes and cleavers, and with fossil bones, the remains of the meals of Acheulian man. In addition, of course, many single bolas stones were found scattered on the surface at Olorgesailie where erosion had cut into the deposits and disturbed part of the camp sites” (Leakey, 1947: 48).

The latest Paleolithic  Polyhedrons, which are interpreted as cores were found at Ar Rasfa in the Jordan Rift Valley (a “Tabun C “Ensemble) but The Levantine Mousterian from Israel, Syria and Lebanon  Levallois-Mousterian is usually devoid of this artifact classes.

Polyhedrons / Spheroids / Bola Stones disappear from the old Paleolithic world archaeological record, not without a resurrection of the concept  in different pars of the world during later times- but this  issue is not part of Aggsbachs Paleolithic blog.

The forgotten Paleolithic heritage of Tunisia

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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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