Selection preferences for animal species used in bone-tool-manufacturing strategies in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Justin Bradfield, Andrew C. Kitchener, Michael Buckley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Animal symbolism is a prominent feature of many human societies globally. In some cases, these symbolic attributes manifest in the technological domain, influencing the decision to use the bones of certain animals and not others for tool manufacture. In southern Africa, animals feature prominently in the cosmogenic narratives of both hunter-gatherer and Bantu-speaking farmer groups. Whenever these two culturally distinct groups came into contact with each other there would be an assimilation of cosmogenic concepts of power and the adoption of certain symbolically important animals. In this paper, we report on which animals were selected to make bone tools during the first millennium AD contact period in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, and explore the extent to which this selection may have been influenced by the symbolic associations of specific animals. Our results show selective targeting of specific animals for tool manufacture at some sites, with a narrowing of the range of selected species during the first millennium AD contact period. Certain antelope tribes, such as Aepycerotini, Cephalophini and Antilopini, appear to have been deliberately avoided, thus arguing against opportunistic selection. Nor does the range of selected animals appear to show any obvious mechanical considerations, as has been noted in similar studies. We highlight the potential of ZooMS for understanding the dynamics of animal symbolism in the past.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0249296
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4 April
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Multidisciplinary


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