Use-Wear Analysis Brings “Vanished Technologies” to Light

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5 Citations (Scopus)


I review five “vanished technologies” from southern Africa that have been brought to light through use-wear studies of bone tools. Most of the examples discussed here represent the first recognition of these technologies in the region and provide unique insights into the technological and behavioral repertoires of past humans and hominins. Hominin foraging and subsistence practices are inferred from the use-wear patterns on modified bones from four sites in the Cradle of Humankind. Early evidence for bow-and-arrow technology comes from Sibudu Cave and Klasies River Main site, with the evidence from the latter site extending the known distribution of this technology farther south. Use-wear has shown that modified bones, thought to have been pendants, were used in a manner more consistent with the production of sound and likely represent early musical instruments. In a similar vein, use-wear has shown that several bone points, conventionally interpreted as arrowheads, were used for domestic activities, such as making reed mats or baskets. Among some of the earliest state-level societies in southern Africa, the presence of bone hoes attests to the practice of small-scale garden agriculture, placing greater emphasis on individual agency within these complex societies. Use-wear studies continue to highlight the absurdity of attributing function based on shape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-626
Number of pages12
JournalAfrican Archaeological Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Agricultural hoes
  • Bone tool technology
  • Bow-and-arrow technology
  • Hominin foraging
  • Musical instruments
  • Traceology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archeology (arts and humanities)
  • Archeology


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