Identifying the animal species used to manufacture bone arrowheads in South Africa

Justin Bradfield, Tim Forssman, Luke Spindler, Annie R. Antonites

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The identification to species of completely worked bone tools is impossible using standard skeletal morphological markers. Worked bone studies therefore have focused on questions about manufacture and use, rather than on issues of raw material selection strategies. Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) is a technique that uses unique collagen biomarkers to fingerprint and identify species of origin from small amounts of bone or ivory. We present the first ZooMS analysis of bone arrowheads from southern Africa. Our findings show that a narrower selection of species was selected for tool manufacture than for food, while, at some sites, certain antelope species were selected for tools that are not present in the unmodified faunal remains. We examine what this selectivity might suggest about mechanical suitability and symbolic associations of the species chosen to make tools. We conclude that mechanical suitability was probably of primary concern and that probable symbolic connotations that were attached to certain species did not translate to the technological sphere to the same extent that they did in other parts of the world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2419-2434
Number of pages16
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • Southern Africa
  • Species identification
  • Worked bone
  • ZooMS analysis
  • Zooarchaeology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archeology (arts and humanities)
  • Anthropology
  • Archeology


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