The dynamic lives of osseous points from Late Palaeolithic/Early Mesolithic Doggerland: A detailed functional study of barbed and unbarbed points from the Dutch North Sea

A. Aleo*, P.R.B. Kozowyk, L.I. Baron, Annelou van Gijn, G.H.J. Langejans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

21 Downloads (Pure)


Osseous barbed and unbarbed points are commonly recovered from the Dutch North Sea and other Mesolithic sites of northern Europe. Interpreted as elements of projectile weaponry, barbed points are considered by archaeologists to be a technological innovation in the hunting equipment of hunter-gatherers. However, debate about their exact use and identification of the targeted prey species is still ongoing. To shed light on the function of these tools, we analysed a sample of 17 artefacts from the Netherlands with a multi-disciplinary approach encompassing morphometric, functional, and chemical analysis. 14C-AMS dating yielded the oldest date for a barbed point from the Dutch coast (⁓13000 cal. BP). The observation of microwear traces preserved on the tools provides solid evidence to interpret the function of barbed and unbarbed points. We show that there were two distinct tool categories. 1) Barbed points hafted with birch tar and animal or vegetal binding were likely projectile tips for terrestrial and aquatic hunting. We provide strong clues to support the link between small barbed points and fishing using wear traces. 2) Points without barbs served as perforators for animal hides. Our results highlight the importance of use-wear and residue analysis to reconstruct prehistoric hunting activities. The functional interpretation of projectile points must also rely on microwear traces and not merely on the association with faunal remains, historical sources, and ethnographic comparisons.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0288629
Number of pages31
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Cite this