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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access April 29, 2022

Techniques and Ideas. Zigzag Motif, Barbed Line, and Shaded Band in the Meso-Neolithic Bone Assemblage at Zamostje 2, Volga-Oka Region (Russia)

Olga V. Lozovskaya ORCID logo
From the journal Open Archaeology


Mesolithic geometric ornamentation is a part of the complex worldview of the latest hunter-gatherer societies. Questions about the functional role of the ornament in utilitarian objects – knives, daggers, arrowheads, etc. – do not have an unambiguous answer. Despite a variability of ornamental motives used, there are some stable connections between certain types of ornaments with some categories of bone tools. On the materials of the Late and Final Mesolithic layers of the wetland site Zamostje 2 (Volga-Oka region), we will consider some examples with the zigzag motif, the most numerous and heterogeneous type of ornament, as well as rarely presented motives of “ladders” and “lines with dots or eyelashes.” The number of samples (120) is sufficient to draw some preliminary conclusions about the context of their application. So, the zigzag is observed on different types of tools, but its connection with sharp-piercing objects is most clearly manifested. The type of relief zigzag is inextricably related to slotted sickle-shaped tools. Zigzag is often the only decorative element on an item and is expressed by a simple or double line; less often it is included in complex compositions. Both types of zigzags and methods of application (fine engraving, scraping, relief carving, etc.) were not regulated and obviously performed different functions depending on the compositional characteristics and the raw material’s type. Compositions of “ladders” located at an angle to each other are also associated with projectile weapons. Lines “with eyelashes” appear to have been a part of the standard dagger decoration.

1 Introduction

The Late Mesolithic in the Upper Volga region is characterized by numerous evidence of figurative activity. It is shown through decoration of weapons and household items, creation of zoomorphic figurines, production of series of ornamented stone pebbles, which had a clearly non-utilitarian purpose, etc. According to materials of the multi-layer lake settlement Zamostje 2 (Volga-Oka region), the peak of bone (antler) tool ornamentation can be traced back to the second half of the seventh millennium cal BC; in the Early Neolithic (foragers with ceramics), it sharply declines.

Among various types of ornamentation, which included combinations of hatching, grids, geometric shapes, simple and complicated lines, the zigzag motif seems to be predominant.

The purpose of this article is to evaluate the role of the zigzag motif in the ornamentation system of bone/antler artefacts based on analysis of the context of its use, i.e. correlation with certain types of tools, typological features, and applied techniques. Along with the zigzag, an attempt is made to identify patterns in the use of specific and expressive types of ornaments such as a “ladder” (motif “f” according to Clark, 1936, p. 169) and lines “with eyelashes” (Clark, motifs “a” and “c”; Loze, motif 11 or Płonka, motif B10) (Loze, 1973, p. 397; Płonka, 2003, p. 316) or “dots.”

2 Site Zamostje 2, General Data

The wetland site Zamostje 2, located in the floodplain of the modern Dubna River, in its middle reaches, in the north of the Moscow region (Figure 1), is one of the most insightful sites for the period of the second half of the seventh to sixth millennium cal BC in the Volga-Oka interfluve (Lozovski, 2003; Lozovskaya & Lozovski, 2018; Lozovski, Lozovskaya, & Clemente Conte, 2013). The depositional sequence includes layers of the Late Mesolithic (Lower and Upper) within approx. 6600–5900 cal BC, a layer of the Final Mesolithic without ceramics (ca. 5900–5750 cal BC), the Early Neolithic with ceramics (5700–5300 cal BC), and the Middle Neolithic layers, which makes it possible to raise questions about cultural and technological changes during the transition from the Mesolithic to the forest Neolithic.

Figure 1 
               Location of Zamostje 2.

Figure 1

Location of Zamostje 2.

In the archaeological layers related to the Late and Final Mesolithic, to a lesser degree, the Early Neolithic (Upper Volga culture), many objects with ornaments and zoomorphic sculptural images (Lozovskaya, 2018; Lozovski, 1997) from various materials – bones, elk antler (more than 300 items, excluding hundreds of dental pendants), stone (94 items), and wood (5 items) – were found, which indicates a high status of the settlement within the tribal structure during that period. Certain categories of decorated artefacts and types of ornaments have been considered earlier in a number of publications (Lozovskaya, 2018, 2020, 2021; Lozovski, 1997, 2009).

For this study, we have chosen three specific motifs – a zigzag, including a zigzag/wave in a deepened groove, a “ladder,” and a “line with eyelashes or dots,” which, as the most characteristic of the site, were especially pointed out by Lozovski (1997, p. 39, 41; 2009, p. 9). The analysis is based on 114 bone and antler artefacts, which show 120 patterns of ornamentation, including 85 (items) with zigzag, 14 with “ladder,” and 21 with “barbed lines.” They belong mainly to the Late (66 items) and Final (21) Mesolithic, followed by the Late Mesolithic Lower Layer (3) and the layer with early ceramics (12). The rest of the artefacts have no exact chronological reference.

The bones (and antlers) of the key game animal – the elk – served as the basic source of raw materials for the bone industry of the settlement. Individual bones of medium-sized animals (e.g. beavers) and birds were used to a lesser extent. The material is highly fragmented; remontage is rare.

3 Methods and Concepts

Mesolithic art used simple geometric motifs that sometimes give rise to similarities between artefacts from different cultural backgrounds. For example a zigzag/linear chevron, a line with “eyelashes”/barbed line, and a “ladder”/shaded band, motifs identified by J. G. D. Clark back in 1936 (as types a, c, f, h, k) (Clark, 1936, p. 169) and invariably repeated in various later studies (e.g. Loze, 1973; Płonka, 2003), are universal graphic expressions of certain concepts that could have been the same or different in different contexts. In Zamostje 2, the idea of complicating simple straight lines with “eyelashes-barbs” found its development in lines with “dots,” which, among other things, required other techniques and tools.

The most ambiguous situation developed with the analysis of the zigzag motif. Existing definitions of the zigzag concept are not universal and comprehensive but reflect, in my opinion, two main understandings. First, the zigzag is a sequence of short lines following one another at the same angles (which indicates the discontinuity and the compound nature of the zigzag), and in which every other line is parallel. The second interpretation is as follows: a broken line of alternating teeth (continuous in its nature), which forms alternately salient and re-entrant repeating angles. It is important that both variants are reflected in Mesolithic ornaments.

For the analysis, the comparative typological research method, as well as the technological method for reconstruction of surface processing techniques, was used. The macrophotos were taken by the author using the Helicon-Focus software.

4 Research Results

4.1 Zigzag

4.1.1 Zigzag: Zigzag Types

A characteristic feature of bone/antler implement decoration in Zamostje 2 is the use of various types of zigzags, both in terms of shape and ornamentation technique (Table S1[1]). At the moment, six main types are distinguished. The underlying criteria are the number of lines that form each zigzag segment and their discontinuity.

Simple zigzag (Figure 2(1)). It is made of short, multidirectional regular lines or angles. Each segment is represented by a single line. This is the most common type and is revealed by 42 zigzag pieces in all layers. It is similar to the motif “h” by Clark, no 13 by Loze, and no A24 by Płonka.

Figure 2 
                  Zamostje 2. Types of zigzag images: (1) simple zigzag; (2) double zigzag; (3) zigzag with three or more parallel lines; (4) zigzag-shaped lines; (5) relief zigzag in the groove; (6) zigzag from other elements.

Figure 2

Zamostje 2. Types of zigzag images: (1) simple zigzag; (2) double zigzag; (3) zigzag with three or more parallel lines; (4) zigzag-shaped lines; (5) relief zigzag in the groove; (6) zigzag from other elements.

Double zigzag (Figure 2(2)). It is composed of short, more or less regularly paired lines. It occurs quite often (22 items); including always, when the zigzag is located across the artefact. Two artefacts were found in the layer with ceramics. It resembles motif no 15 by Loze.

Zigzag with three or more parallel lines (Figure 2(3)). Triple zigzag lines are observed in 3 cases, zigzags made up of 4 lines – in two cases, bundles of subparallel scratches making up a large zigzag – in at least 4 cases. The last variant resembles motif C12 by Płonka.

Zigzag-shaped (partly wavy) lines (Figure 2(4)) represent continuous extended lines with more or less pronounced teeth, mostly irregular; arranged in parallel, they sometimes fill completely the wide sides of objects. There are 14 items in total.

Embossed zigzag, deepened in the groove (Figure 2(5)). Very specific type of ornamentation typical for the site (Lozovski, 1997, pp. 41–42, etc.). It is a continuous zigzag (in some places wavy) convex line because of the lowering of the surrounding relief, shaped as a flat narrow groove. The ornamental belt is about 5 mm wide. There are five items in total.

Zigzag built from other elements (Figure 2(6)) (e.g. “ladders” or transversal little lines). Two items in total.

Two more pieces show a simple zigzag that is incorporated into a complex pattern of shaded triangles and is apparently inseparable from it (Figure 4(1)). It is close to motives “k” and “l” by Clark, as well as nos 16 and 17 by Loze. The start of filling with shading is also clearly visible on the third artefact.

4.1.2 Zigzag: Application Techniques

Three basic techniques underlie the production of zigzags on the surface of bone tools. First of all, engraving (Figure 3(1)) is a universal way to decorate objects made from organic materials. Fine engraved lines with different pressure (i.e. depth) and accuracy are present in Zamostje 2. Any flint blade or flake with a sharp projection or angle of fracture could serve as a tool. This technique was used for simple, double zigzags, a part of multiline zigzags and zigzag-shaped lines. The section of engraved lines is predominantly triangular, with different inclination, sometimes rounded.

Figure 3 
                  Zamostje 2. Application techniques: (1) engraving; (2) scraping; (3) carving.

Figure 3

Zamostje 2. Application techniques: (1) engraving; (2) scraping; (3) carving.

The second decoration technique was revealed on three knives made of elk ribs. It implies surface scraping with a wide, unretouched or damaged flint blade (Figure 3(2)). Zigzags are large, rough, form bundles of lines (type 3); the relief is very shallow.

Carving (cutting) of an ornament with a deep relief (Figure 3(3)) represented a clear technological chain of operations which can be clearly seen on several unfinished tools. First, two parallel deep and wide (up to 1 mm) grooves were scraped out along the entire length; then, in a checkerboard pattern, sub-triangular depressions were cut out towards each other, which formed a more or less regular zigzag line. This technology is associated only with this type of ornament (type 5). Among the prehistoric sites of the Upper Volga region, it is known only in Zamostje 2, with the sole exception: another object (an axe) with a similar ornament, without a clear stratigraphic context, was found at the site Ivanovskoye II (Kostyleva & Utkin, 2010, pp. 54–55); the authors attribute it to the Bronze Age.

Drilling and pointillé techniques were not recorded in the materials of Zamostje 2.

4.1.3 Zigzag: Context of Use

In most cases (50 items = 59%), the zigzag is the only ornamental motif on an artefact. This indicates a certain well-established semantic value of this sign. Zigzag in combination with other elements appears less frequently (26%). These are, for example, simple straight lines, a line with “eyelashes or dots,” single rhombs, “ladders,” oblique shading, or cuts (Figures 4(16), 5(1, 4–5 and 12), 7(1 and 5), and 8(14)). The zigzag acts as a system-forming element in a complex ornament of shaded triangles (3%) (Figure 4(1 and 12) and 5(18)). Finally, in some cases, the zigzag is used in complex compositions as an off-centre element (12%) (Figure 4(3 and 6)). The narrative of the compositions is always individual. The double zigzag, located across items, apparently played a demarcating role for different decorated zones (Figures 5(8), 8(7), and 10(9)).

Figure 4 
                  Zamostje 2 (1, 3–10, 12–20), Ozerki 5 (11). (1, 3–6) elk rib knives; (7–10, 13–16) slotted arrowheads with spikes; (11–12, 18–20) miniature (hair) pins. Late–Final Mesolithic (1, 3, 5, 7–20); undefined (4, 6). (2 – after Clark, 1936, p. 169; 11 – after Zhilin, 2014, Figure 132: 10).

Figure 4

Zamostje 2 (1, 3–10, 12–20), Ozerki 5 (11). (1, 3–6) elk rib knives; (7–10, 13–16) slotted arrowheads with spikes; (11–12, 18–20) miniature (hair) pins. Late–Final Mesolithic (1, 3, 5, 7–20); undefined (4, 6). (2 – after Clark, 1936, p. 169; 11 – after Zhilin, 2014, Figure 132: 10).

Figure 5 
                  Zamostje 2 (1, 4–13, 15, 17–19, 21), Kamen Dyrovaty (2–3, 16, 21), Shigir Peat-bog (14). (1 and 4) spearheads; (2–3, 12–16 and 20) arrowheads; (5–10, 19, 21) elk rib knives; (11 and 17) scapula knives. Mesolithic (2–5, 8–16, 18–20) Early Neolithic (1, 7, 17, 21) undefined (6). Figures 4–6, 8, 10 by V. Lozovski. (2–3, 16, 21 after Serikov, 2001, Figures 42: 10; 49: 7; 51: 6, 9; Savchenko, 2020, Figure 6: 28).

Figure 5

Zamostje 2 (1, 4–13, 15, 17–19, 21), Kamen Dyrovaty (2–3, 16, 21), Shigir Peat-bog (14). (1 and 4) spearheads; (2–3, 12–16 and 20) arrowheads; (5–10, 19, 21) elk rib knives; (11 and 17) scapula knives. Mesolithic (2–5, 8–16, 18–20) Early Neolithic (1, 7, 17, 21) undefined (6). Figures 4–6, 8, 10 by V. Lozovski. (2–3, 16, 21 after Serikov, 2001, Figures 42: 10; 49: 7; 51: 6, 9; Savchenko, 2020, Figure 6: 28).

In general, the zigzag is found on almost all types of tools that have been decorated, but its occurrence is uneven (Figure 6).

Figure 6 
                  Zamostje 2. Correlation of ornamental motifs with types of bone (antler) tools. a – Mesolithic artefacts and without exact chronological context (probably Mesolithic); b – Early Neolithic artefacts.

Figure 6

Zamostje 2. Correlation of ornamental motifs with types of bone (antler) tools. a – Mesolithic artefacts and without exact chronological context (probably Mesolithic); b – Early Neolithic artefacts.

The correlation of the zigzag motif with slotted arrowheads with a sharp pin-like barb is the most characteristic for Zamostje 2: 67% of the points (points with pins and one base) (Figure 4(7–10)) and 29% of broken off pins (Figure 4(13–16)) are decorated with a simple or double zigzag, eight fragments in total. A similar pin with a zigzag was also found in Ozerki 5 (Zhilin, 2014, Figure 124: 11). Another arrowhead of this type shows diverging “ladders” (Figure 8(5)); no other motifs of ornamentation were found.

A zigzag is sometimes found on needle-shaped arrowheads of the Late and Final Mesolithic (five items in total). On a long, thin item, short double zigzag “snakes” are discontinuously located along the entire length; three times they are separated by a belt of short cuts (Figure 5(12)) (Lozovski, 1996, Figure 21: 13, 1997, p. 38). A similar composition was found on a dagger from a geographically distant but chronologically close site Beg-er Vil (Kayser & Bernier, 1988). In other cases, it is located close to the tip or along the axis of the tool (Figure 5(13 and 15)). In general, the share of ornamented arrowheads in the site is small – 5%.

Miniature (hair) pins are the second type of tools exclusively associated with the zigzag (Figure 4(12 and 17–20)). Covered with notches, the edges have a wavy outline, the base often shows a zoomorphic end in the shape of a “duck’s head” (for more details, Lozovskaya, 2021), and both sides are decorated with a zigzag (ten specimens): simple zigzag or zigzag-shaped lines. A similar pin with a zigzag was found at the site Ozerki 5, layer IV (Figure 4(11)) (Zhilin, 2014, Figure 132 :10).

Elk rib knives represent an abundant category of tools with a wide functional purpose (Clemente Conte & Girya, 2003). They are characterized by surface decoration, zoomorphic handle tops (duck head, etc., Lozovskaya, 2021), and sometimes cuts along the edges, creating waviness (Figures 5(9 and 10) and 8(14)). All the first four types of zigzags and two main ornamentation techniques – engraving and scraping – are revealed on knives (Figure 5(5–10 and 20–21)). The zigzag is predominantly longitudinal, in very rare cases (five items), a transverse double zigzag as a part of a composition (Figures 5(8) and 8(7)).

The zigzag on two scapula knife fragments looks non-typical: these are “ladders” arranged in a zigzag and a large double zigzag pattern along the edge of the second item (Figures 5(11) and 8(10)). The third item shows a bifacial zigzag line (Figure 5(17)).

On spearheads, the zigzag is very rare (four items) and comes up in unusual combinations. On an artefact from the layer with ceramics, two lines of a low zigzag, sometimes doubled, with dots on the tops, run along the edges of the convex side; the teeth outlined by it are shaded (Figure 5(1)). On the second item, a transverse double zigzag running from the prong is decorated with a lozenge on both sides (Figure 5(4)).

Sickle-shaped tools with a deep wide groove for inserts on the concave side are associated almost exclusively with a carved zigzag. In total, there are four such tools (including one fragment) (Figure 7(1–4)) and one blank (not included) (Lozovskaya, 2001, Figure 10: 2). In all cases, ornamental bands are located in the centre of the lateral wide sides and follow the curve of the blank. The two broken blanks indicate that both the groove and the engraved lines were cut from the distal end to the base of the antler (Figure 7(2)). On one item, the presence of a large hole for the handle and roughly shaped “ears” brings the tool closer to the well-known “elk head” (the staff head like a spike hammer) (Figure 7(3)) (Lozovski, 1997, Figure 7: 5–6, etc.). Only one item of this type is decorated differently: with a double transverse zigzag and branched lines with dots (Figure 10(9)). The only exception is a dagger fragment with inserts decorated by one band of relief zigzag (see below) (Figures 7(5) and 10(5)).

Figure 7 
                  Zamostje 2 (1–7, 9–17), Ivanovskoye II (8). (1–4) sickle-shaped tools; (5) slotted dagger; (6) wooden snake figurine; (7, 9–11) engraved pebbles; (12, 14–15) snake-shaped knives and pins; (13) spoon; (16) ornamented elk head (side views); (17) handle. Late Mesolithic (2, 4–7, 9, 12–17) Early Neolithic – 11; undefined – 1, 3, 8, 10. Figures 7, 9–13 by V. Lozovski, 17 – by D. Cherevko (8 – after Kostyleva & Utkin, 2010, Figure 13: 11).

Figure 7

Zamostje 2 (1–7, 9–17), Ivanovskoye II (8). (1–4) sickle-shaped tools; (5) slotted dagger; (6) wooden snake figurine; (7, 9–11) engraved pebbles; (12, 14–15) snake-shaped knives and pins; (13) spoon; (16) ornamented elk head (side views); (17) handle. Late Mesolithic (2, 4–7, 9, 12–17) Early Neolithic – 11; undefined – 1, 3, 8, 10. Figures 7, 9–13 by V. Lozovski, 17 – by D. Cherevko (8 – after Kostyleva & Utkin, 2010, Figure 13: 11).

Figure 8 
                  Zamostje 2. (1–5, 8, 8a) Arrowheads and spear points; (6–7, 7a, 9, 12–13) tool fragments; (10–11, 14) scapula and elk rib knives. Late Mesolithic (1–6, 9–14). Early Neolithic 7, 7a, 8, 8a. Figures 11 and 14 by V. Lozovski.

Figure 8

Zamostje 2. (1–5, 8, 8a) Arrowheads and spear points; (6–7, 7a, 9, 12–13) tool fragments; (10–11, 14) scapula and elk rib knives. Late Mesolithic (1–6, 9–14). Early Neolithic 7, 7a, 8, 8a. Figures 11 and 14 by V. Lozovski.

In addition, there are three exclusive artefacts with a zigzag: a fully ornamented elk head with zigzags along both sides (the cheeks) (Figure 7(16)) (Lozovski, 1997, Figure 7: 5), a spoon with a double zigzag discontinuously located along the edge (Figure 7(13)) and elk rib handle for some tool with bifacial large zigzag made from rows of transverse short lines (Figure 7(17)).

At the same time, the zigzag pattern is altogether absent on some types of tools (categories): for example on simple daggers, piercers, and tools made of beaver mandibles.

4.1.4 Zigzag on Other Materials

For a more complete understanding of some features of the zigzag motif’s traditional use on the site, a few words should be said about decorated artefacts from other materials. On engraved pebbles – the series in Zamostje 2 consists of 94 objects – the zigzag motif is very rare (five items) and clearly has no independent role. On two pebbles (one comes from the layer with ceramics, the second without context), it is inscribed in the registers (the registers seem to be characteristic of the Early Neolithic), along with the transverse and oblique shading (Figure 7(10 and 11)) (Lozovski, 1997). A complex composition with “ladders” and a complicated zigzag is observed on an item from the Late Mesolithic Upper layer (Figure 7(7)). The composition from shaded triangles echoes the above mentioned knife from the same layer (Figure 7(9)). In general, this may indicate a different semantic content of the zigzag image on the stone.

Among the wooden objects, there is a paddle-shaped plate with a bifacial double large zigzag (Lozovskaya & Lozovski, 2016, p. 66, Figure 5: 1), formed by small triangular cutouts and a snake figurine carved from a piece of wood in the shape of a zigzag (Figure 7(6)).

4.2 Ladders

This type of ornament represents a composition of two parallel engraved lines, the inner space between which is filled with densely spaced transverse (or parallel to the object axis) lines – “crossbeams.” It is close to the motive “f” (band with vertical shading) of Clark (1936, p. 169); it also resembles the motif F5 of T. Płonka (Płonka, 2003, p. 212, 319). In most cases, engraving is shallow, but the fine lines are drawn clearly and confidently. The width of the “ladders” ranges from 2 to 3.5 mm, and the distance between the rungs is 1–1.5 mm. In general, they are standardly made, with the exception of two pieces (Figure 8(8 and 12)). The angle of the fragmented blade or flake, including a slightly damaged one, judging by the bottom relief of some negatives, possibly served as a tool for engraving. First, the longitudinal guiding lines of the ornament were applied, and then they were filled with transverse lines, often going beyond the bounding lines.

A total of 12 items with this type of ornament (Figure 8) were found in the Late and Final Mesolithic layers and 2 items in the layer with ceramics (EN) (Table S1). On three artefacts, the “ladders” are heavily damaged by fractures, and it is incorrect to speculate on their exact location (Figure 8(7, 9 and 13)). The standard is the arrangement of two “ladders” at an angle to each other, whereas their ends are sometimes at some distance or close. The composition usually goes from one edge of the item to the other (at the needle-shaped tip along the entire perimeter, Figure 8(3)), which gives it a character of completeness (integrity).

There are two variants of “ladders” compositions orientation: the first variant is along the axis of the tool at an angle of 90–120° (four specimens) – an arrowhead with a groove for flint bladelets (bifacial decoration) (Figure 8(5)), medial fragments of a needle-shaped arrowhead and a point with a triangular section (two sides) (Figure 8(3 and 4)), and a handle of the elk rib knife (Figure 8(6)). The second variant is across the longitudinal axis of items (three pieces). In this case, the angle between the “ladders” is sharp; its apex is directed towards the tip of the tool, like that of elk rib knives (on the zoomorphic head of handle or they “open” towards it, Figure 8(11)), and on the Early Neolithic barbed spearhead (Figure 8(8)). In the latter case, the angle of “ladders” is probably inseparable from the extended hatching of the barb zone; it seems that the transverse lines dominate over the longitudinal ones. On a fragment of a scapula knife the “ladders” to a higher extent resemble a zigzag; their position should be considered as longitudinal in relation to the blade (Figure 8(10)).

The two needle-shaped arrowhead fragments show a different use of the “ladder” motif. Bands with vertical shading surround the rods around the perimeter. The width of the ladders varies significantly (Figure 8(1 and 2)).

A spatula-shaped artefact of unknown purpose from the Final Mesolithic layer is covered on both sides with an original ornament of longitudinal densely shaded stripes, slightly tapering towards a narrow handle (Figure 8(12)). The lines style, the shape of stripes, and their location are significantly different from the examples described above, so these bands can hardly be called “ladders.” It seems that the ornament was made on the blank before the final shape of the item was given.

4.2.1 “Ladders”: Context of Use

In at least six cases (43%), the “ladder” motif is associated with the projectile points (needle-shaped arrowheads, one slotted with a pin, a barbed spearhead, a point with a triangular section) (Figure 8(1–5 and 9)) and, in three more cases (21%), with elk rib knives (Figure 6). It should also be noted that all other slotted arrowheads, as shown above, were associated with the zigzag motif. An additional zigzag is also present on items; in particular, on a knife with a broken head (Figure 8(14)). In general, in almost all these cases, the depiction of the “ladder” motif followed a certain canon.

A completely different presentation of shaded bands (“ladder” motif?) was revealed on one item of unknown purpose (spatula?) (Figure 8(12)) and have not been interpreted yet.

Three broken tools with fragments of “ladders” (including one slotted tool Figure 8(9)) indicate only a possibility of combination with other ornamental elements, in which “ladders” are not dominant.

In general, this type of ornament was not widespread in the Volga-Oka region. An unexpected similarity in the longitudinal pair disposition of “ladders” is shown by a well-known artefact from Stensby (Zealand), dating from the Middle Mesolithic (Płonka, 2003, Figure 56: 1). But the whole composition, which includes an anthropomorph, is completely different.

4.3 “Line with Dots or Eyelashes”

This type of ornament, well known in its various pictorial interpretations in Northern and Western Europe (Clark: motif “a” and “c,” Loze: motif no 11, and Płonka: B2, B6–B10, etc.), in the Volga-Oka interfluve is also fairly specific and is typical only for the site Zamostje 2 (Lozovski, 2009, p. 9). It consists of “a deeply engraved line framed by dotted cavities or dashes-eyelashes.” (Lozovski, 1997, p. 39). Dots can be located on one or both sides of the main line; “eyelashes” are usually one-sided and directed at an angle to it. The latter were usually engraved in the same manner as the line, and the oval or sub-triangular dots were carved using small cuts. Dotted lines seem to predominate, but sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish them with certainty; therefore, we proceed from the fact that semantically they are very close to each other. A total of 21 artefacts have been studied (Table S1). By location of the lines, we can divide them into three variants.

Usually, lines were drawn along the longitudinal axis of tools. In the studied assemblage, however, a small group of items stands out, on which lines with “eyelashes” form closed figures. These are daggers with side grooves for flint inserts (four pieces): one item belongs to the Upper Mesolithic layer, and the others were found outside a clear chronological context (Table S1 and Figure 6). A whole dagger made of elk antler with two short grooves, the remains of a hole for tying at the end, and a bifacial ornament gives an idea of this type of tool (Figure 9(1)). The ornament, located at the same level as the central short grooves, consists of two symmetrical curved bands (7.5 cm long) formed by lines with eyelashes closed at the ends – the eyelashes are directed towards the inside of the figure – and a simple line in the centre; the ends of the bands are pointed. T. Płonka distinguishes it as a specific motif F2, but it seems that it is only present in Zamostje 2 (Płonka, 2003, p. 319). Three other daggers are presented in fragments: one has the ends of four similar figures, but without the central line (Figure 9(2)); the second one has the same short “snakes” with outward teeth (Figure 9(4)), both objects are with double-sided ornament; and a third fragment with large rectangles with triangular teeth along one side (Figure 9(3)). All engravings are deep.

Figure 9 
                  Zamostje 2. (1–2) slotted daggers; (3–6, 8) fragments of slotted tools; (7) knife. Late Mesolithic (4, and 6–8); Early Neolithic (5); undefined (1–3).

Figure 9

Zamostje 2. (1–2) slotted daggers; (3–6, 8) fragments of slotted tools; (7) knife. Late Mesolithic (4, and 6–8); Early Neolithic (5); undefined (1–3).

Straight lines with dots or “eyelashes” are the most numerous (12 specimens). Usually, they go along the edges of items, as if outlining them on both sides. This is clearly seen on four medial tool fragments similar to knives or large spearheads from elk long bones (Figure 10(1–4)), one almost a complete knife (Figure 10(10)) and a needle-shaped rod from the layer with ceramics (Figure 10(8); the denticles or lines on these items are shallow and short, mostly perpendicular to the lines. Deep lines with large dots of various shapes and directions are characteristic for massive spear points with a groove (two pieces) or daggers (one piece) belonging to the Upper Mesolithic layer (Figures 9(6 and 8) and 10(5)). The ornamentation is bilateral, but not symmetrical, consists of two or three lines, and on the dagger this motif is met in combination with a band of relief zigzag (see above) (Figure 7(5)). Another fragment of a spear point (probably) handle has a similar shape of dots and lines, slightly curving at the ends (Figure 10(7)). The beveled tool 45° deserves special mention – it is a very rarely decorated category of tools – with two parallel, clearly cut lines with eyelashes: closer to the edge, a line with long oblique regular dashes along the entire preserved length, and the second – with short cuts of different directions in the middle part of the line (Figure 10(11)).

Figure 10 
                  Zamostje 2. (1–4, 6–8, 12) Tool fragments; (5) slotted dagger; (9) slotted sickle-shaped tool; (10) dagger (knife); (11) beveled tool.

Figure 10

Zamostje 2. (1–4, 6–8, 12) Tool fragments; (5) slotted dagger; (9) slotted sickle-shaped tool; (10) dagger (knife); (11) beveled tool.

The third group, curved and branching lines, includes five dissimilar objects: an elk scapula knife with a side back (Figure 9(7)) and a knife handle from an elk rib (Figure 10(6)); small sickle-shaped tool (Figure 10(9)) – lines with eyelashes/dots in the centre repeat the curve of the item; on one side, oblique lines with the same pattern depart from the centre line and go to the concave and convex edges. Another “sickle-shaped tool” with a relief zigzag is complemented by curved lines with eyelashes along the groove (Figure 7(1)). Finally, one tool of unclear purpose is covered with an ornament as “herringbone”: oblique lines with long, downward-directed dashes-eyelashes extend in different directions from the central deep stria (Figure 10(12)). A remote parallel to this object can be found at the site Pogostishche 15, where a bone plate is decorated with a similar herringbone ornament composed by lines with eyelashes (Kosorukova, Lukintseva, Voronkov, & Grinina, 2020, p. 16, 18).

5 Discussion

Bone (antler) assemblage of late seventh to early sixth millennium cal BC of the lake settlement Zamostje 2 shows various types of ornamentation, among which zigzag motifs, “ladders” and lines with eyelashes/dots, are the most expressive and repetitive. Despite the fact that the projectile points, knives, and daggers, which make up 75% of studied items (excluding small fragments), are traditionally the most decorated categories of bone artefacts, and among them, it was possible to identify some examples of clear relationship between the types of tools and specific ornamental motifs.

At the same time, among numerous examples of zigzag motif use, it seems obvious that its meaning was not uniform and unidimensional. Based on the typological and technological diversity, we can conclude that the zigzag as an ornamental element could have had different meanings depending on the context of use.

Among the most striking local phenomena, we can consider the existence of sickle-shaped slotted tools made of elk antlers with a carved zigzag in the wide groove and its specific technology. The problem of chronological interpretation of this apparently short-term phenomenon to our regret has not yet been resolved because of unfavourable conditions for the discovery of these finds (only three of them have a clear dating by layer), but the most probable is the very end of the Mesolithic, i.e. the turn of the seventh to sixth millennium cal BC. This type of tools is completely isolated in the materials of the site, both Mesolithic and Neolithic; its functional purpose is unclear (but at least one of them shows remains of mastic which was used to attach the inserts, but the flint blades themselves are missing), and the role of the zigzag in this context remains a mystery.

One of the options for interpreting the simple engraved zigzag motif, which is based on its stable connection with piercing–cutting, penetrating tools – arrowheads, especially grooved ones, hairpins, and knives – it is prompted by the discovery of a wooden snake figure with an emphasized zigzag silhouette (Figure 7(6)). Handles in the form of a duck head (is it a duck or a snake?) on elk rib knives and miniature hairpins, regular notches along the edges, giving a wavy outline, add an additional resemblance to a snake figure (Figure 7(12 and 14–15)). This similarity, from my point of view, may not be accidental. For hairpins and slotted arrowheads with pins (except one), the connection with the zigzag motif is the only one.

The relation of the zigzag motif with the snake has already been repeatedly considered in the scientific literature and is confirmed by some finds. First of all, it is necessary to mention the antler figurine of a snake from Tōrvala, ornamented on one side with a band of triple zigzag; Ilga Loze clearly connects it (together with the net motif) with a picture of viper (Loze, 1973, p. 389, Figure 4: 2). Another bone sculpture of a snake (or adder) from Abora 1 dates from the Neolithic, but the back of the figurine also has a “zigzag line characteristic of this reptile” (Loze, 2003, p. 51). P. V. Petersen gives an example of Late Paleolithic images of snakes (vipers): a rod from Fogense Enge and two depictions on a baton from Montgaudier. All snakes have zigzag lines along their entire length, double and single (Petersen, 2021, p. 67, 69).

On the other hand, examples of decorating the surface of daggers, knives, and projectile points with solo zigzags are numerous in different cultural contexts: Oleneostrovsky burial ground (Gurina, 1956, pp. 224–225), Lubānas Lake (Loze, 1973; Płonka, 2003, pp. 42, 377), Mesolithic sites in Denmark (Płonka, 2003, p. 372, 384, 531, 534, 536), etc.

On elk rib knives, more often than in other categories of implements, there are complex ornamental compositions, in which the zigzag has a subordinate auxiliary role, including the syntactic one: transverse double zigzag to limit ornamental zones. By the way, this artistic technique was not noted in other provinces of Northern and Western Europe (see, e.g. Płonka, 2003). The zigzag at the base of the shaded triangles compositions is the only common theme with engraved pebbles. Special forms of the image of the zigzag in the registers may indicate a different semantic content or reflect later Early Neolithic influences.

As for the stylistic or technological differences of the Early Neolithic assemblage, so far we can only note a relatively high content of compositions (four out of seven) and, which is much more important, a sharp decrease in the number of ornamented objects, including those with a zigzag motif.

In contrast to the stylistically diverse realization of the zigzag motif, the ornament in the form of bands with vertical or oblique (always parallel to the axis of the item) shading was to a certain extent standardized. Compositions of “ladders” diverging at a right/obtuse (longitudinal arrangement of elements) angle were found on items associated with projectile weapons (three pieces), including one slotted arrowhead with a spike. The fragmentation of items does not allow tracing the further behaviour of this composition along the entire length of artefacts. It is not impossible that its duplication could have led to the appearance of a “sophisticated zigzag.” On two knives and one Neolithic arrowhead, there is a transverse disposition of “ladders” at an acute angle; in particular, it is the only example of geometric decoration on a zoomorphic handle.

The other examples of this type of ornament use have a different organization. Fragments of needle-shaped arrowheads with a shaded band rim appear to be occasional examples of the “ladder” motif use. The image on the spatula-shaped artefact shows even less similarity.

The ornament in the form of lines with dashes-eyelashes or dots shows at least three directions of interactions. Closed elongated figures (short stripes or rectangles) from these lines were definitely applied to hunting daggers with two slots. Large spearheads, both with and without inserts, seem to have been decorated with two to three longitudinal lines with large single-row or double-row dots of various shapes on both wide sides. The semantics of these figurative marks are unclear. Finally, for a later time (the Final Mesolithic and possibly later), a tradition of framing large objects along the very edge with a thin line with eyelashes appears. Items with branched or curved lines are individual and do not show any general trends.

Despite that the Mesolithic traditions in the art of Northern and Western Europe included a wide variety of lines with transverse strokes or barbs, most known examples of this group of ornamental motifs are included in various compositions and differ organizationally and stylistically from those in Zamostje 2.

Finally, most of the studied artefacts, which were associated with some kind of ornamental motifs (except for miniature hairpins), are slotted tools: sickle-shaped tools, arrowheads with a spike, spearheads, and daggers. As it has been noted more than once, in the context of the site Zamostje 2, slotted tools (41 items in total, including fragments) showed the highest percentage of ornamentation (63%) and, obviously, played a privileged role in the society of Late Mesolithic hunter-fishers.

6 Place Among the Synchronous Sites of Eastern Europe

The assemblage of Zamostje 2 is, to a certain extent, a unique collection of ornamented and sculptural items for the period under consideration in the Volga-Oka interfluve.

As for the analogies to the zigzag images among the synchronous sites of the Upper Volga region and nearby territories, there are very few of them (Figure 1). First of all, this is an one-winged arrowhead of the site Ozerki 5, lower layer IV (Zhilin, 2014, Figure 124: 1), which is decorated with five zigzag lines in the middle part and a belt of transverse zigzag near the base. This settlement shows the highest similarity to the Mesolithic assemblage of Zamostje 2; it also reveals a hairpin with a zigzag (Figure 4(11)), a broken spike from the arrowhead, vaguely similar lines with eyelashes on fragments of points (Zhilin, 2014, Figure 121), etc. Some elements of zigzag are observed on the fragments of arrowheads of the site Stanovoye 4-III (Zhilin, 2014, Figure 49: 5; 50: 1). Some similarity can be traced in the materials of the North of European Russia: two daggers from elk scapula of the Middle Mesolithic settlement Veretje 1 show an ornament of a zigzag filled with shaded triangles, close to the knife from Zamostje 2 (Oshibkina, 2017, pp. 62–63), but this ornament is closer to shading patterns, combined in triangles. Another object shows a simple zigzag along the edge (Oshibkina, 2017, Figure 29: 7). A recent find from Pogostishche 15 is a bone plate with a bifacial ornament, one of the sides showing a variant of a zigzag ornament with lined triangles (Kosorukova et al., 2020, Figure 3: 8). The same pattern is also observed on a small piercer (or hairpin?) from the site Ivanovskoye 7 (Zhilin, 2014, Figure 109: 5). The only example of a relief zigzag was found on a wedge-shaped axe at the site Ivanovskoye II (Figure 7(8)); the features of the drawing and the technique of its execution seem to completely coincide; however, its age is unclear (Kostyleva & Utkin, 2010, pp. 54–55).

On a broader scale, parallels for line compositions with eyelashes can be found in the Maglemose cultural sites in Northern Europe (Becker, 1945, p. 72; Clark, 1936, p. 168, 173; Henriksen, 1980, p. 80). Variants of the line with dots are much less common; they are present not only in the bone assemblage decor of the northern circle of Mesolithic sites, but also, for example, on objects from the Shigir collection in the Urals (Zhilin, 2010, p. 139). Although in all these cases the context of use (correlation with the types and categories of artefacts, compositional and stylistic features) differs from what we observe in Zamostje 2.

In the Urals, arrowheads with an engraved zigzag were very widespread since the Mesolithic (Shigir peat bog, for example, Figure 5(14)). In the cave sanctuary on the Kamen Dyrovaty, hundreds of Mesolithic arrowheads decorated with a zigzag – simple, double, zigzag lines, sometimes in combination with simple lines and notches – were found. All of them were slotted items (Figure 5(2–3, 16, and 20)), which, as in Zamostje 2, were the most ornamented type of arrowheads (98.96%) (Serikov, 2001; 2014, pp. 103–109, Figures 42–52).

Thus, despite the fact that some analogies are found in the North of European Russia, the Volga-Oka region and the Urals are characteristic of the bone industry at the Zamostje 2 site and emphasize its individuality among other sites of the forest zone of European Russia.

7 Conclusion

Inhabitants of the lake settlement Zamostje 2 in the second half of the seventh to the beginning of the sixth millennium cal BC actively used various types of ornaments to decorate bone implements. The zigzag was one of the most important ornamental motives. The types of zigzags and the ornamentation techniques were not regulated and obviously carried different meanings depending on the compositional characteristics. However, it is often the only type of ornament on an object. Six main types of zigzags can be distinguished: simple, double, of three or more lines, zigzag lines, embossed in a deepened groove, and composed of other elements. Most of the ornaments are made using the engraving technique. Two more specific techniques have been identified: scraping with a wide blade and volumetric carving on a flat surface. The latter was associated exclusively with the type of relief zigzag on sickle-shaped slotted tools.

The clearest correlation can be traced between zigzag and miniature pins, zigzag and slotted arrowheads with spikes, as well as other pointed/penetrating tools – needle-shaped arrowheads and a part of knives made from elk ribs. In the latter case, the types of zigzags and the ornamentation methods have the greatest variety, which, however, could be associated with the functional versatility of this tool type.

Based on the context of using the zigzag in the Mesolithic assemblage of Zamostje 2, three main semantic layers can be distinguished. The first is a zigzag as an independent semantic unit – on piercing tools; the resemblance to a wooden snake figurine indicates a possible connection. The second – yet unknown – reflects the concept of using sickle-shaped tools in their isolated status. The third, obviously following some general idea, is a zigzag as a part of various compositions. In the ornamentation of stone pebbles, the zigzag is extremely rare and is never the only element.

“Ladders” (short sections of shaded bands) had a traditional style and were observed mainly on the projectile points and knives. They were located in pairs at an obtuse or acute angle, respectively, along or across the longitudinal axis of items.

Barbed lines are predominantly associated with slotted daggers and various spearheads. The former are characterized by closed short stripes or rectangles made up of lines with eyelashes or denticles. For massive slotted spear points, lines with large dots of various shapes can be considered typical.

Both types are rare in the materials of the site and practically do not come up in the nearby regions. The absolute majority of bone/antler artefacts with zigzag decoration date to the Late or Final Mesolithic. In the Early Neolithic in the sixth millennium cal BC, the number of ornamented objects is noticeably lower, and the zigzag motif seems to be largely diluted in a different figurative space.

Special Issue published in cooperation with Meso'2020 – Tenth International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe, edited by Thomas Perrin, Benjamin Marquebielle, Sylvie Philibert, and Nicolas Valdeyron

  1. Funding information: The research was supported by the Program of Fundamental Scientific Research of the Russian State Academies of Sciences FMZF-2022-0012.

  2. Conflict of interest: The author states no conflict of interest.

  3. Data availability statement: All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article.


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Received: 2021-05-09
Revised: 2022-02-24
Accepted: 2022-02-25
Published Online: 2022-04-29

© 2022 Olga V. Lozovskaya, published by De Gruyter

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