The chronological period known as prehistory represents one of the most important periods in the history of mankind, with considerable economic, technological and social developments. Generally, the prehistoric chronology spans the time period between the emergence of hominids and that of the appearance of writing and first states (largely c. 6000 years ago) but with considerable regional chronological variations. Our project will focus on the period developing from the Neolithic to the end of the Bronze Age (7th-2nd millennia BC), as this segment of prehistory is one of the best documented archeologically in Romania (the large number of investigated sites providing a considerable number of artefacts required for the approach proposed by the present project).
For a long while, Romanian archaeology paid little attention to osseous artefacts. Most of the early studies barely observed their presence – “the archaeological assemblage also contains tools made of bone and antler” – or, at best, there was an enumeration of the main typological categories, without any functional or technological considerations. The very few extensive excavation reports (e.g., Dumitrescu 1965, 1966) or earlier studies (e.g., Comșa, 1985, 1986; Bolomey and Marinescu-Bîlcu, 1988, 2000; Andreescu 1997; Andreescu and Popa 1999-2000) when discussing the osseous industry, only took into discussion tool morphologies and analogies, with the purpose of classifying them into various typological categories. Under these circumstances, Romanian traditional archaeology developed around the mere identification and classification of artefacts (typology). Entire series of items, having as common element the morphology of the active extremity, were integrated in an unique functional category, with no description of the manufacturing and use-wear traces which would have allowed for a more precise interpretation of their function, and perhaps, for the real identification of the manner they were used in.
Starting from the situation described above, this project is designed to fill in an important gap in the existing scientific knowledge on the research subjects proposed, and thus addresses a wide scientific audience. The project aims to start from technological and functional concepts set out empirically by previous archaeological studies, in order to hopefully validate or merely test the technological transformation schemes of the raw materials and the functions attributed to the various prehistoric artefacts made from osseous materials through analytical and experimental studies. Osseous materials were used by the prehistoric communities to manufacture weapons, tools and artistic objects. In this category are included bone, antler, ivory, teeth and shell, each with its own processing techniques that have to do with their mechanical properties and also with the specific cultural traditions of each community. The osseous industry is an important component of the economy of prehistoric communities since it reflects environmental exploitation strategies and the extent to which cultural attitudes influence these strategies.
The project will develop over five stages. Within the first stage, replicas of the artefacts will be manufactured, following technical transformation schemes identified by the direct study of key prehistoric archaeological assemblages on the northern bank of the Lower Danube. We mention here only the most important sites attributed to the Neolithic – Măgura-Buduiasca and Schela Cladovei, the Eneolithic – Cheia, Hârșova-tell, Bordușani-Popină, Căscioarele-Ostrovel and Vitănești-Măgurice and the Bronze Age – Costișa, Odaia Turcului and Năeni. Most of the material has already been studied by the director of this project proposal; when a re-evaluation of the osseous material will be required, this will take place under the collaboration protocols with various museums in the country (e.g. Museum of National History and Archaeology Constanța, Călărași County Museum, Teleorman County Museum, Museum of Gumelnița Culture – Oltenița etc).
Going back to the first stage of the experimental program, we will elaborate a descriptive chart in order to register during the experiment all the stages of the technical transformation scheme, with details of the used raw materials, the time necessary for each type of operation, the used tools and the results obtained for each operation. It will be noted also the way of obtaining/collecting the raw material, as well as the time required to collect a pre-set number of blanks (e.g. 50 valves from alluvial areas). The purpose of these annotations is to reconstitute and evaluate the effort (as both time and energy) invested for the processing of each artefact. Technological marks will be microscopically analysed for a better description/characterization, essential in the following stages.
A second stage will be implemented by using these artefacts in various actions as indicated in the archaeology publications or as suggested by the morphology/typology of the pieces. We will test various situations and we will work with the experimental replicas on a range of various material textures (e.g. wood, bone, clay, hide etc) that reflected both the activities and the available resources to the Romanian Neo-Eneolithic and Bronze Age communities. The state of the processed materials (e.g. dehydrated or fresh), the nature of the working actions, and the durations of the experiments will be recorded in detail. Attention will also be paid to the manner of description of the use-wear traces, a very important step for the later stage when will take place the comparison with the archaeological pieces. The frequency and distribution of the polish, edge rounding and micro-topography, the presence and pattern of the functional striations, the presence of the microfractures and exfoliations will be rigorously recorded and described. The replicas will also be microscopically analysed at different time intervals, recording the evolution of these use-wear patterns. Two types of microscopes will be used: a Keyence VHX-600 digital microscope, with magnifications ranging from 30x to 150x, with images taken by the embedded camera, and an Olympus BX53M metallographic microscope (magnifications ranging from 100x to 500x) equipped with an EOS 1200D Canon camera. Image processing will be done using the Quick PHOTO INDUSTRIAL 3.1 software and the overlapping of details for the composite pictures with the Deep Focus 3.4. Software.
In the next step, all these observations, accompanied by photos, will be gathered into one database. The database for the experimental data management will be of relational type and will be realized in MySQL under XAMPP and Windows 10, and the information will be introduced, modified, updated either directly through the management system or through the SQL programming language. This database will have 2 main sections. The first one will be dedicated to the technological schemes for obtaining the experimental replicas: a brief but comprehensive textbook/ guidelines to be used in future attempts of replicating archaeological artefacts. All the observations contained in the descriptive chart (see first stage) will be inserted here. The second section will be dedicated to the observations related to the wear patterns on the artefacts as microscopically observed during the third stage of the experimental program. In this database there will be tables related to photographs of the artefacts, before and after use. The database thus constructed can be used offline, locally, but also online or distributed through its integration into a web platform built using PHPmyAdmin and the related languages (PHP, JavaScript, HTML, CSS etc).
In the last stage, the observations made on the experimental replicas and logged in the database will be compared with the archaeological specimens in order to validate the hypotheses regarding the manner they were processed and used by the prehistoric communities. The database will be made available to researchers from specialized institutions and can be used in the future either for the creation of other replicas (based on the guidelines in the first section) or for the identification of the functionality of the artefacts from other archaeological assemblages by comparison with our observations related to the use of the initial replicas (from the second section of the database).
In summary, through this project we will have two main deliverables: a collection of experimental replicas which then can be multiplied, and a database with information of technological and functional nature so that the function of the different prehistoric artefacts made from osseous materials could be in the future easily identified.