The Mesolithic settlements on the left bank of the Danube in the Iron Gates have yielded numerous artefacts made of osseous materials. Products and sub-products of the chaîne opératoire are present, suggesting in situ manufacturing of the finished items. Among a restricted range of artefact types, the most characteristic ones are bevelled tools made of antler, pointed tools of bone, and boar tusk scrapers. Our research has focused on identifying both the manufacturing processes applied to the various raw materials and the marks left by use, which are key indicators of the function of the artefacts. We were also interested to know if a unitary technological scheme could be identified throughout the Iron Gates, or if there are features specific to individual sites. Our findings suggest that despite a general unitary pattern, it is nevertheless possible to identify elements that are characteristic of individual sites but whether these were the result of economic or cultural factors is more difficult to assess. The results of this combined approach suggest wood processing and hunting were among the main activities performed with osseous artefacts. Contrary to some previous interpretations, there is no evidence for their use in connection with plant cultivation.
1.1 Archaeological Context
The discovery and investigation of the Iron Gates sites were the outcome of a decision by the Yugoslav and Romanian governments to construct two hydroelectric dams on the Lower Danube – Iron Gates I (1964–1971) and Iron Gates II (1977–1984) – that would create a reservoir system over 230 km long, flooding areas on both banks of the river. At least 19 cave/rockshelter and open-air sites with evidence of Mesolithic occupation are known from the Iron Gates, which together have produced large numbers of burials and architectural remains, and rich inventories of faunal material and portable artefacts. The Mesolithic settlements on the left bank of Danube in present-day Romania yielded a significant number of artefacts made of osseous materials. The osseous artefacts from six sites (Alibeg, Icoana, Ostrovul Banului, Ostrovul Corbului, Răzvrata, and Schela Cladovei) are the focus of this study (Figure 1). Unfortunately, the osseous artefacts from three other sites – Climente II Cave, Cuina Turcului rockshelter, and Ostrovul Mare island – were not available for study when this article was prepared.
In the context of the Iron Gates, we use the term Mesolithic to refer to the period from c. 14700 to 8000 years ago, corresponding to the Late Glacial and Early Holocene. For convenience, we subdivide the period into three main stages; “Early” (c. 12700–9600 cal BC), “Middle” (c. 9600–7200 cal BC) and “Late” (c. 7200–6000 cal BC) (cf. Bonsall & Boroneanț, 2018). Since we were unable to examine the assemblages from Cuina Turcului and Climente II, what follows relates to the Early Holocene portion of the Mesolithic time range.
1.2 The Sites
Alibeg (Boroneanț, 2000, 2012; Mărgărit & Boroneanț, 2017a) was an open-air site in the upper Iron Gates gorge (Figure 1), located on an alluvial flat along the left bank of the Danube. Excavations in 1971 documented the presence of Early Neolithic pottery sherds in a yellow sandy soil, directly overlying a Late Mesolithic occupation layer (dated by a single radiometric 14C date on a bulk charcoal sample: Bln-1193, 7195 ± 100 BP [6340–5840 cal BC], Boroneanț, 2000). An AMS date on a herbivore bone from the same archaeological horizon (RoAMS: 690.53, 7118 ± 45 BP [6070–5890 cal BC]) falls within the same time interval.
Răzvrata (Boroneanț, 2000, 2012; Mărgărit & Boroneanț, 2017b) was an open-air site on the left bank of the Danube situated within the “Little Cauldrons” at the confluence of the Mraconia River with the Danube (Figure 1). Eight trenches covering c. 95.5 m2 were investigated in October 1971 yielding remains from Mesolithic, Early Neolithic, and later occupations. Two AMS 14C dates on pig bones (Dinu, Soficaru, & Mirițoiu, 2007) confirm occupation at Răzvrata between c. 8320 and 7740 cal BC (Middle Mesolithic). A radiometric 14C date on a bulk charcoal sample (Bln-1057, 7690 ± 70 BP [6650–6420 cal BC]) and an AMS date on a herbivore bone (RoAMS-688.53, 7608 ± 51 BP [6590–6390 cal BC]) also suggest occupation during the Late Mesolithic.
Icoana (Boroneanț, 2000, 2012; Mărgărit, Boroneanț, Balint, Bălășescu, & Bonsall, 2017a), also an open-air site, was located several hundred metres downstream of Răzvrata (Figure 1). An area of c. 90 m2 was excavated in 1967–1969 and remains of Mesolithic, Early Neolithic, and later occupations were identified. AMS 14C dates on bones of wild boar (Bonsall & Boroneanț, 2018; Dinu et al., 2007) indicate at least two phases of Mesolithic occupation of the site, one between c. 8700 and 7600 cal BC (Middle Mesolithic), and the other between c. 6200 and 6000 cal BC (Late Mesolithic).
The open-air Mesolithic site of Ostrovul Banului (Boroneanț, 2000, 2012; Mărgărit, Boroneanț, & Bonsall, 2017b) was investigated in 1966 during the construction of the Iron Gates I hydroelectric dam (Figure 1). The site was situated at the downstream end of the island. Archaeological features identified included pits, some possibly the remains of dwellings. The portable finds include knapped stone artefacts, abundant bone and antler tools, and faunal remains. The available radiocarbon dates (two radiometric dates from the 1980s (Boroneanț, 2000), one published AMS date (Dinu et al., 2006), and four new AMS dates (Boroneanț, Bălășescu, Sava, & Bonsall, forthcoming)) fall into two periods, c. 8600–8350 cal BC and c. 7250–6850 cal BC, indicating occupation of the site during both the Middle and Late Mesolithic.
Schela Cladovei  (Boroneanț, 2012; Boroneanț & Bonsall, 2013; Boroneanț, Mărgărit, Bălășescu, & Bonsall, 2018) was a large open-air site on the left bank of the Danube in the area downriver from the Iron Gates Gorge and c. 6 km below the Iron Gates I dam (Boroneanț & Bonsall, 2013). Excavations in 1965, 1967–1968, 1982–1997, 2001–2002, 2007–2019, and 2022 have uncovered remains of Late Mesolithic, Early Neolithic, and later occupations. AMS radiocarbon dates on human bones and artefacts made from terrestrial mammal bones group into two time series, c. 7200–6300 cal BC (Late Mesolithic) and 6000–5600 cal BC (Early Neolithic) (Bonsall, 2008).
Ostrovul Corbului (“Raven Island”– Bonsall, Boroneant, Simalcsik, & Higham, 2016; Boroneanț, 2012; Mărgărit, Boroneanț, & Bonsall, 2018; Roman & Păunescu, 1996) was a low-lying alluvial island in the Danube, c. 70–75 km downstream from Schela Cladovei (Figure 1). The main excavations were those by Florin Mogoşanu and Marin Nica (1973–1976), Alexandru Păunescu (1977–1980), and Petre Roman (1977–1984). Cultural remains ranging in age from Mesolithic to Iron Age were recognised in the excavations. Archaeological features identified as Mesolithic or Early Neolithic include numerous pits, some of which may have been the remains of houses with sunken floors, and human burials. Portable finds attributed to the Mesolithic include knapped and coarse stone artefacts, bone and antler tools, and abundant faunal remains comprising mammalian and fish bones and shells of freshwater molluscs. The available 14C dates (Bonsall et al., 2016; González-Fortes et al., 2017; Roman & Păunescu, 1996) fall in the later part of the Middle Mesolithic (c. 7950–7200 cal BC) and during the Late Mesolithic (c. 7030–6450 cal BC).
1.3 The Osseous Assemblages
Although the osseous industry of the Romanian Iron Gates sites has been discussed in previous publications (Beldiman, 2005, 2012; Boroneanț, 1973, 2000; Boroneanț et al., 2018; Mărgărit & Boroneanț, 2017a,b; Mărgărit et al., 2017a,b, 2018; Păunescu, 1990, 2000; Roman & Păunescu, 1996), these have tended to focus on individual sites and raw materials, and no integrated study was previously attempted.
The present review encompasses over 800 artefacts made of antler (398), bone (292), and tooth (153). Our objectives were (1) to identify both the manufacturing processes applied to the various raw materials and the marks left by use, seen as key indicators of the function of the various artefact categories; and (2) to determine whether the same chaîne opératoire and raw material acquisition strategy characterised all the sites investigated, or whether there were differences between sites or periods.
On the Serbian bank of the Danube, during the Mesolithic, bones from large- and medium-sized mammals, antlers of red and roe deer, as well as teeth (mainly of wild boar) were also used for manufacturing everyday tools or weapons. For the most part, these were classified and interpreted according to typologies based on their shape (Bačkalov, 1979; Radovanović, 1996; Srejović & Letica, 1978; Vitezović, 2011). More recent studies have focused on the exploitation of certain raw materials (Vitezović, 2021) or on use-wear analysis (Cristiani & Borić, 2021).
For our study of osseous artefacts from the Iron Gates Mesolithic, we created a record for each artefact comprising observations on the raw material (type, species, skeletal element, etc.), general category (waste, blank, preform, finished object, etc.), and morphology. This was followed by observations on the manufacturing technique (both blank production and shaping) and the presumed function based on use-wear characteristics. The typological classification follows that in the Fiches typologiques de l’industrie osseuse préhistorique (e.g. Camps-Fabrer, 1990; Camps-Fabrer et al., 1998; Patou-Mathis, 2002; Ramseyer, 2004).
The better-preserved artefacts were examined with a Keyence VHX-600 digital microscope at magnifications between 30× and 150×, and images were obtained using the microscope’s integral camera. Analytical criteria for the technological and functional interpretation of the marks were established based on key publications on osseous artefacts (e.g. Altamirano Garcia & Alarcón Garcia, 2019; Averbouh, 2000; Choyke & O’Connor, 2013; David, 1999; Goutas, 2004; Legrand, 2007; Legrand & Sidéra, 2007; Maigrot, 2003; Pétillon, Plisson, & Cattelain, 2016; Vitezović, 2016; Orlowska, 2018). Our interpretations of the various technological and functional marks were also informed by experimental studies, which were critical for understanding the origins of the marks present on artefacts and the development of use-wear in relation to the contact material and gestures employed.
These are presented below, grouped according to raw material and stage of the chaîne opératoire.
|Raw material||Category||Icoana||Ostrovul Corbului||Ostrovul Banului||Răzvrata||Alibeg||Schela Cladovei||Total|
*Indeterminate pieces were excluded.
3.1.1 Finished Items
Bevelled artefacts are by far the most numerous morpho-type among the collections examined (n = 215, Table 1). Other types are comparatively scarce, comprising five pointed tools, four handles, four hammers, and one pressure flaker, outnumbered by sub-products (15 preforms and 38 blanks) and debitage waste (116 fragments).
Antler exploitation was directed toward producing bevelled tools made on both volume and flat blanks, using a variety of technological procedures.
184.108.40.206 Bevelled Tools on Volume Blanks
The most numerous sub-type is represented by implements manufactured from the distal portion of an antler tine (Figure 3a), which was detached either by percussion (Figure 3b) around the entire circumference of the tine or by sawing with an abrasive fibre. The manufacturing marks indicate that the distal extremity was then bevelled either by percussion and/or unifacial longitudinal scraping with a lithic tool (Figure 3c and d). The result would have been a convex cutting edge, although the shape of the end was transformed by use. On the ends of specimens from Ostrovul Corbului (Figure 3e–g) there are small overlapping fractures and the shape of the end has become rectilinear or concave. Such items were probably used to process hard materials, most likely involving indirect percussion. On some specimens (e.g. at Ostrovul Banului) marks of transverse abrasion suggest resharpening of the active front.
Another sub-type is bevelled tools made from the brow tine, resulting in a more robust implement. The blanks were obtained by percussion. The proximal extremity was not shaped, but the active end was trimmed obliquely by percussion in some cases with shaping by abrasion of the cutting edge. These items were most likely used in percussive actions, as indicated by the heavy use-wear (characterised by prominent fractures) on the active end.
More massive, bevelled tools were made out of antler beams (Figure 4a). Sectioning of the beam was accomplished by percussion around the entire circumference (Figure 4b). In a few cases, the tines were removed by sawing with an abrasive fibre (Figure 4c). A circular perforation (more rarely two) to facilitate hafting was made in the middle of the blank using a combination of percussion and bifacial rotation (Figure 4d). Typically, the active end of the tool shows blunting caused by use involving percussion, altering the profile from convex to straight (Figure 4e).
Three massive, bevelled artefacts from Alibeg stand out (Figure 4f and g). One is made from an unshed antler and two from shed antlers. In all cases, the brow tine was preserved and used as a handle. The beam was sectioned by percussion (in two cases) and sawing (in the third case) applied around half of the circumference, followed by bending. The resulting languette fracture provided the active end, which was then shaped to create the convex morphology required for a bevelled tool. The active ends are heavily compacted altering the shape from convex to rectilinear, indicating extended use involving percussion.
One specimen from Ostrovul Corbului was obtained from the basal portion of the beam of a shed antler (Figure 3h). The proximal end was regularised by percussion, and use-wear at this end takes the form of short transverse cuts occupying a small area (Figure 3k and l). The bevelled active end was created by percussion (Figure 3i) indicated by the presence of oblique cut marks, and the edge subsequently shaped. Macroscopic polish overlies the percussion marks. The tip is strongly affected by use, acquiring a rectilinear shape through compaction (Figure 3j). The specimen was most likely a combination tool – one end used as a hammer and the other as a bevelled tool.
Bevelled objects manufactured on flat blanks were found at Alibeg (1 item), Ostrovul Banului (4 items), and Ostrovul Corbului (6 items) (Figure 5a). The bevelled ends are unifacial, created by percussion followed in some cases by scraping. The tips are blunt and fractured by compression (Figure 5c). The opposite ends are compacted (Figure 5b), suggesting these artefacts were used as wedges in conjunction with some form of hammer.
Three fragments from Răzvrata and one from Ostrovul Banului (Figure 5d) show the distinctive morphology of bevelled tools but can now be classed as waste. All four fragments originate from antler beams, although (given the reduced size) it is impossible to determine whether they were made on volume or flat blanks. Their small size and morphology indicate they were initially the “active” ends of artefacts that were detached by percussion (Figure 5e) and not the ones that were reshaped and reused. The active front appears heavily worn, with a significant loss of material (Figure 5f).
Four items can be classified as hafts. They are all made on antler tines (Figure 5g) that were detached by percussion around the entire circumference (Figure 5h). The spongy tissue was removed at the proximal end creating a longitudinal hafting slot (Figure 5i).
One of the pointed tools from Icoana was made on a whole crown tine detached from the antler by percussion. The pointed end is blunt, with a loss of raw material giving it a concave morphology. The item was probably used as a perforating tool involving indirect percussion. The second pointed tool was made on a flat blank and has a boomerang shape in plan (Figure 6a), an oval section, and pointed ends. The procedure for obtaining the blank could not be determined, as longitudinal scraping was subsequently applied to the entire surface (Figure 6b and c). The basal extremity shows a languette fracture, while the other exhibits a recent break.
The single antler point from Ostrovul Corbului was made on a volume blank obtained from a tine. The artefact is broken at the active end and thus the segmentation procedure cannot be determined. The pointed morphology of the other end was acquired through percussion followed by bilateral scraping, though use has rendered it blunt.
The only pointed tool from Alibeg is technologically similar to the massive, bevelled tools. It was made from the basal part of a shed antler, preserving the brow tine which was used as a handle. Sectioning of the beam was achieved by percussion. It is excluded from the bevelled tool category based on the pointed morphology of the active end, although the heavy compaction of the active extremity suggests it was used in percussive actions like the bevelled tools.
One piece from Ostrovul Banului was assigned to the “pointed tool” category (Table 1). The upper part of a roe deer antler detached by bending, one of the tines was possibly used for perforating.
Four pieces from Ostrovul Banului were assigned to the hammer category. Three were made from red deer antler (Figure 6d) and one from roe deer antler. One of the pieces made from red deer antler is a beam fragment (volume blank) broken at one end. The segmentation procedure could not be determined but the natural roughness of the surface of the antler had been smoothed. The intact end is convex and has impact damage resulting from percussion, which is suggestive of contact with stone (Figure 6e). Possibly, this piece was an antler billet used in flintknapping – the surface shows a series of overlapping deep striations (Figure 6f), which may result from the use of this part for platform overhang removal.
Two other hammers were made from the basal portions of antlers and are fractured at the active end. The active ends had acquired a convex morphology through percussion. On one artefact, the active end also exhibits percussion cuts and macroscopic polish.
Part of a roe deer antler, which had been severed at the proximal end by percussion (Figure 6g), was probably used in percussive actions. On the severed end, there is use-wear comprising deep incisions, pitting and macroscopic polish (Figure 6h and i).
A unique piece discovered at Icoana was assigned to the pressure flaker category. It was made from a tine detached by percussion around a third of its circumference followed by bending. Toward the tip is an area with overlapping, irregular, small cuts. The original point is missing, most likely due to repeated use to press off flakes along a platform edge.
3.1.2 Blank Production
This category comprises antler fragments (Figure 7) showing signs of working. Size-wise such items are suitable for transformation into finished artefacts. The presence of all constituent elements of the antler (beams and tines) permits reconstruction of the entire chaîne opératoire for the transformation of deer antler. Most artefacts in this category preserve the anatomical volume of the antler.
Longitudinal bipartition as a primary blank removal technique is poorly documented for the Mesolithic period in the Iron Gates and was noted on only a few pieces. Blanks were generally detached from antlers by segmentation carried out by direct percussion (present at all sites studied) or sawing with an abrasive fibre (represented at Ostrovul Corbului, Ostrovul Banului, Schela Cladovei, and Alibeg). There were no shaping marks along the edges.
3.1.3 Debitage Waste
Ten such items from Ostrovul Corbului originate from the basal part of the beam – five each from shed and unshed antlers. For three specimens originating from shed antler, segmentation of the beam had been achieved by a combination of percussion and sawing. All the other basal fragments were detached by percussion. Another five specimens consisted of the tips of antler tines. The tines were removed by sawing with an abrasive fibre in three cases, and the rest by percussion. They were detached by a combination of percussion and bending.
At Schela Cladovei, sectioning of the beam (regardless of the origin of the antler blank – shed or unshed, lower or upper beam) was carried out by percussion around variable lengths of the circumference, followed by bending.
At Alibeg, the only waste was from the basal part of a shed red deer antler separated from the rest of the beam by sawing with an abrasive fibre.
Overall, examination of the debitage waste (Figure 7) and finished products indicates that exploitation of both unshed and shed antler was characteristic of some sites (e.g. Ostrovul Corbului, Schela Cladovei, and Alibeg), the source of the antler being indicated by the form of the base.
In contrast, at Răzvrata and Ostrovul Banului, only the basal parts of shed antlers are present as waste products of debitage. At Răzvrata, sectioning of beams and tines was achieved by percussion around variable lengths of the circumference, followed in some cases by bending. At Ostrovul Banului, the basal part was detached by a combination of sawing and bending. On the beam segments, percussion was used at one end and sawing at the other. The tines at the crown of the antler were sectioned exclusively by percussion followed, in one case, by bending.
At Icoana, the absence of the basal fragments suggests that the antlers were sectioned off-site and only the segments to be transformed into tools were brought in. Debitage waste consists of fragments of tines from the antler crown. They were sectioned by direct percussion, generally around half of the circumference, followed by bending. Given their small size, they could not subsequently be transformed into tools.
Pointed tools are represented by 201 items, bevelled objects by 60 items, spatulas by 5 items, while 3 mammal mandibles were also used as tools. We also identified eight preforms, six blanks, and nine examples of debitage waste. Large- and medium-sized mammals are represented among the assemblage, but in most cases, the species could not be determined. The exceptions were two Canis sp. mandibles and one beaver jaw (Table 1, Figure 2b).
3.2.1 Finished Items
The main category is represented by pointed implements, used either as weapons or in domestic activities. Most were made on flat blanks (Figure 8d and g) obtained by bipartition or quadri-partition using either percussion or grooving (Figure 8e and h). On some pieces, the edges of the blanks were shaped by abrasion. The pointed ends were created by scraping (Figure 8i). Most specimens display use wear on the active end (Figure 8j) characterised by small languette fractures, or rounding of the extremity associated with transverse scratches (Figure 8f and k). On some specimens, the fracturing of the opposite end (suggested by overlapping peripheral flake scars) indicates the use of these artefacts for perforating by means of indirect percussion.
Some of the pointed artefacts were likely used as spear points (e.g. Ostrovul Banului, Icoana, and Schela Cladovei). All such specimens (Figure 9a, d, and g) were made from the shafts of long bones from large- and medium-sized mammals. The procedure for obtaining the blanks could not be determined. The active end was prepared by longitudinal scraping (Figure 9b) around the entire circumference. For complete artefacts, the base testifies to different means of hafting. One method consisted of creating two converging facets by longitudinal scraping (Figure 9h), thus creating a plano-convex cross
-section. Five broken examples (Figure 9c, e, and f) display irregularly spaced, transverse incisions on the facets. Another pattern consists of eight short incisions located on one of the lateral edges (Figure 9i). All incisions were created by sawing using the edge of a lithic artefact.
Another variant of the hafting system involved the creation by longitudinal scraping of a tapered base that retains a circular cross-section (Figure 10a and b, Ostrovul Banului) and has a rectilinear basal extremity (Figure 10c). The same scraping procedure was used to obtain the pointed end. The latter is often slightly fractured due to use, sometimes with advanced use-wear and areas of heavy polish obliterating the manufacturing marks.
Two double-pointed artefacts from Icoana are slightly curved, with pointed ends and circular cross-sections. The method of debitage could not be determined due to subsequent shaping. The morphology was obtained by scraping over the entire surface. On the mid-part of one specimen was a series of transverse incisions of variable lengths. On both specimens, one of the pointed ends displays a small languette fracture.
Pointed tools made on volume blanks are few. All five examples from Ostrovul Banului are fragmented. The active ends were obtained by scraping or abrasion around the entire circumference of the bone. One piece is curved (this shape having been obtained by scraping the entire surface of the piece) and covered with intense use-wear except for the intact end, which was probably hafted.
At Icoana, only 3 of the 127 pointed tools were made on volume blanks. On one specimen, marks caused by percussion to create the active front were observed. The pointed morphology was achieved by abrasion of the edges. The tip is blunt, with no visible use-wear. On the other two pieces, the active end was created by scraping around the whole circumference.
All bevelled artefacts were made on flat blanks (Figure 10d and g). Longitudinal debitage was achieved by bipartition or successive partitions using (indirect) percussion. On some specimens, the edges of the splinters were regularised by diffuse percussion. Longitudinal scraping (Figure 10h) was carried out in some cases during the shaping stage and was observed on various parts of the implement. The active front was bevelled by unifacial abrasion or scraping of the inner surface of the bone. At the active end, marks of transverse scraping (Figure 10e and i) indicate periodic re-sharpening. The active fronts show differing degrees of use-wear, on some specimens developing a strongly concave morphology with polish on both faces (Figure 10j and k).
On two items from Icoana, the basal extremity is characterised by longitudinal overlapping fractures. The active front is smoothed suggesting the use of this tool on a material with a rounded surface (possibly wood branches) for peeling or cleaning it using indirect percussion. Other specimens display heavily fractured active fronts suggesting their use with percussion. In a few cases, use-wear consisting of fine longitudinal striations was observed, indicating the general direction of tool movement.
At Icoana, two of the three spatulas were decorated and possibly had a symbolic function. One artefact was decorated on the outer surface with a complex incised motif. This spatula was made on a flat blank, though subsequent modifications have obscured the original extraction technique. The inner surface of the bone blank was modified by abrasion until perfectly flat. The active end was created also by bifacial abrasion. Despite the degraded surface of the artefact, the more extensive use-wear toward one of the edges suggests that it was manipulated at a slight angle to the longitudinal axis.
The second decorated spatula (Figure 11a) is broken both transversely and longitudinally, preserving only a small part of the active end. The surviving manufacturing marks indicate it was shaped by deep longitudinal scraping (Figure 11b). The end is blunt and rounded, with intense polish (Figure 11c and d). A series of decorative chevrons were engraved on the outer surface (Figure 11e and f).
The third specimen (Figure 11h) is a fragment of a spatula, made on a blank produced by longitudinal bipartition by percussion. The active part was shaped by longitudinal scraping, superimposed by abrasion toward the extremity (Figure 11i). The active front is strongly rounded (Figure 11j), but micro-wear could not be distinguished due to post-excavation application of varnish.
Two spatulas from Ostrovul Banului (Figure 12a) were made from the shafts of large mammal long bones. In both cases, the blanks were flat, obtained by longitudinal bipartition by percussion. In one case there was no shaping of the edges. Longitudinal scraping (Figure 12b) has created an active end with a pointed morphology. Localised polish along the leading edge of the spatula indicates the piece was not heavily used (Figure 12c). On the second artefact, the inner surface of the blank was shaped entirely by longitudinal scraping. The active end is characterised by a significant loss of material, resulting in an irregular morphology. On the opposite end, there were overlapping longitudinal fractures. A series of striations on the inner surface of the piece is most likely the result of friction with another material.
Two fragments of Canis sp. mandibles (Figure 12d) from Ostrovul Banului show intense abrasion on the teeth (Figure 12e) – probably related to use – that wore away the enamel. Under the microscope, the abraded areas are characterised by intense polish and fine parallel striations (Figure 12f). Most likely, these artefacts were used in rubbing/grinding actions.
A beaver jaw (Figure 12g) from the same site was used opportunistically and shows no manufacturing traces. Two use-wear areas (Figure 12h and i) were recorded: on the tooth (fine scratches transverse to the axis of the tooth) and in the region of the condyloid process at the rear of the mandible (intense polish with irregular scratches). Use of beaver mandibles is attested at Mesolithic sites elsewhere in Europe and experimental studies based on the finds from Zamostje 2 in Russia suggest they were used for wood processing (Lozovskaya, Leduc, & Chaix, 2017; Lozovskaya & Lozovski, 2015).
Two fragments of medium-sized mammalian bone, from Ostrovul Banului, preserve the marks of longitudinal partitioning by grooving, but there are no traces of subsequent shaping.
At Alibeg, blanks are represented by three bone fragments that were split longitudinally (Figure 8b). On four more items, after bipartitioning by percussion, one of the sides was shaped by diffuse percussion (Figure 8c), thus transforming these blanks into preforms. A similar piece from Icoana exhibits the same shaping procedure on one side.
At Ostrovul Corbului, a fragment of the diaphyseal wall was extracted by longitudinal bipartitioning by percussion, followed by segmentation also using percussion. The same sequence of operations for obtaining the blank followed by regularisation of the lateral edges by percussion is evident in three other cases.
At Ostrovul Corbului, nine bone items were classed as debris (Figure 8a). They comprise fragments of epiphyses split by percussion and detached from the bone shaft by percussion. Such fragments were unsuitable for turning into tools. No waste fragments were found at any of the other sites, possibly due to the excavation and recovery techniques employed.
3.3.1 Finished Items
The finished pieces may be subdivided into three categories: scrapers (98 pieces), bevelled tools (12 pieces), and combination tools (14 pieces).
Boar tusks were frequently used by the Iron Gates Mesolithic communities, especially at Icoana for creating scrapers. Morphologically, scrapers have an active end in the form of a point associated with a concavity. Generally, such items were made on flat blanks, with only a few examples preserving the anatomical volume of the tusk. The flat blank was obtained by longitudinal splitting of the tooth using indirect percussion, followed in some cases by regularisation of the concave edge by abrasion (Figure 13g). On two specimens (one each from Ostrovul Banului and Icoana) grooving (Figure 13b and c) took place prior to splitting. On one of the specimens from Ostrovul Banului and one from Ostrovul Corbului, transverse segmentation by sawing was noted. The active end has a concave morphology (Figure 13e) obtained by deep scraping, resulting in a thin point that in most cases had broken off (Figure 13h). It is evident that the point did not have a functional role, but resulted from the way the active end was shaped. The concave part seems to have been used and was periodically restored to its original shape by scraping (Figure 13d and f).
Another sub-category found at Icoana and Schela Cladovei is represented by items where the active front combines a convexo-concave part and a point, creating two scraper edges. The chaîne opératoire is identical to that of the first sub-category (Figure 13i–k) and repeated resharpening of the active front resulted in a similar shape, though these items show less use-wear.
At Ostrovul Banului one scraper was manufactured from a beaver tooth (Figure 13l). The blank was obtained by longitudinal bipartition by direct percussion. The convex edge displays scraping marks, indicative of resharpening of the active front (Figure 13m and n). The artefact was used in a similar way to those made of wild boar canines.
Canis familiaris teeth (two canines and one incisor) from Schela Cladovei were used as scrapers (Figure 14a). Their surfaces are unworked except for the tip area where human intervention is visible in the form of a shallow depression with abrasion marks (one example) or with two such depressions located on opposite facets of the tooth (two examples, Figure 14b and c). All three items exhibit similar traces of use, suggesting similar functions.
Bevelled tools were made mainly on boar tusk flat blanks (Figure 14d and g) obtained by bipartition using percussion. The sides of the artefacts were thoroughly shaped by longitudinal scraping, occasionally associated with abrasion (Figure 14e). The active end (transverse to the long axis of the piece) was created by scraping only on the inner surface (Figure 14f, h, and i). The overlapping of use-wear and manufacturing marks indicates periodic resharpening. On some specimens, heavy use-wear was noted, reflected in the development of a slight concavity in the middle of the active front.
Only one bevelled tool from Icoana (Figure 14j) preserves the anatomical volume of the tooth. The blank had been detached by sectioning. The active front seems to have taken advantage of the natural wear facet on the tusk, which was then bevelled at the tip by longitudinal scraping (Figure 14l). At the opposite end, there is evidence of compression with intersecting peripheral flake scars (Figure 14k). This, and the fractured active end, suggests that it was an intermediary piece used in indirect percussion.
From Ostrovul Banului, there is a single bevelled tool on a volume blank. The active front was obtained by sharpening the natural wearing side of the tooth by abrasion. It shows only slight use, probably due to breakage of the implement.
Combination tools: Icoana yielded nine double tools, six with one end bevelled (Figure 15a and e) and one end pointed, and three with both ends pointed (Figure 15h). For the first type, both flat blanks (four examples) and volume blanks (two examples) were used. The flat blanks were obtained by the longitudinal splitting of the tooth. The sides of the blanks were regularised (generally by scraping and only sporadically by abrasion (Figure 15b) obliterating previous technological marks. The creation of the two active fronts was done on the inner face – on the bevelled end by longitudinal scraping, followed toward the area of the active front by transverse scraping (Figure 15c, d, f and g); the pointed ends were created by bilateral longitudinal scraping.
The two double tools on volume blanks were made from the distal part of the tusk, taking advantage of its natural shape. The two active fronts were made by longitudinal scraping along the sides for the pointed end and by transverse scraping for the bevelled end.
The double-point specimens were made exclusively on flat blanks, which were obtained by cutting longitudinal grooves to facilitate splitting by percussion. The inner surface was thoroughly shaped by scraping. Toward the extremities, the scraping was convergent and applied bilaterally to create the pointed ends (Figure 15i and j).
At Ostrovul Banului, four tools are of the double point type and one of the bevelled/point type. In the first case, the flat blanks were obtained by longitudinal splitting of the tooth using percussion (three examples) or by grooving combined with percussion (one example). On two of the specimens, only the active end was shaped by abrasion or diffuse percussion. The ends of the artefacts are concave with visible scraping marks, resulting from repeated sharpening of the active front.
The last artefact of this category was also made on a flat blank obtained by bipartition using percussion. One extremity is pointed and shows a strongly concave edge, while the other is bevelled with a concavo-convex morphology generated by intensive use. The piece is heavily worn with most of the percussion marks faded. The scraping marks were also blurred, suggesting that the active front had not been recently resharpened.
Two tooth fragments from Ostrovul Banului bear the marks of debitage but no subsequent shaping of the pieces. One artefact had been split longitudinally by percussion and segmented by sawing followed by bending.
3.3.3 Debitage Waste
At Icoana, we identified 26 waste fragments from wild boar lower canines (Figure 13a), all of them from flat blanks obtained through longitudinal debitage by percussion. We were unable to identify any traces of shaping. Such fragments cannot be considered true blanks since they are smaller than the finished pieces.
Three Sus sp. canines from Alibeg were not worked and were probably stored as raw material. However, they are important since their presence contributes to our understanding of the chaîne opératoire for this type of raw material. The canines lack the root of the tooth, having been detached by percussion. This explains the smaller size of the items from Alibeg and why the upper part of the tooth area was used at this site in contrast to Icoana, for example where the root portion was preferred as it provided wider blanks. A complete male canine from Ostrovul Banului was recovered intact, indicating that it was probably obtained by breaking apart the mandible. This suggests that both techniques (fracturing the tooth and fracturing the mandible) were used to obtain animal teeth in the Iron Gates region.
4.1 Raw Materials
Of the three types of raw materials, antler is the most widely used and occurs at all the Iron Gates Mesolithic sites examined. This raw material was not available throughout the year, and there were two sources for obtaining it: either hunting the deer or collecting their shed antlers. Collecting antler could have taken place during the spring or early summer for red deer antlers (antlers develop between August and February and shedding starts in March) and during winter for roe deer (antlers develop between April and October/November) (Schmid, 1972, p. 90, Figure 26). Several factors may account for the preponderance of red deer antler in Iron Gates Mesolithic sites, including weather conditions at the time the antlers are available (conceivably better in Spring vs Winter) and the fact that red deer grow bigger antlers with more tines compared to roe deer, potentially providing material for a greater number of artefacts.
The patterns of variation between sites can be summarised as follows:
At Icoana, it is unclear whether the artefacts were made of shed or unshed antlers. The faunal assemblage contains only two fragments of neurocrania with antlers, suggesting those animals were hunted between August and February (Schmid, 1972, p. 90). On the other hand, no artefacts made from the basal part of an antler were present at this site. All surviving artefacts were made on tines or beam segments from the middle and upper part of the antler. However, segmentation may have been performed away from the site, with only the blanks to be converted into finished tools brought to the site (Mărgărit et al., 2017b).
At Răzvrata, given the presence of debitage waste from the basal parts of antlers, we can argue for the predominant exploitation of shed antlers. Under these circumstances, antler processing may not have been directly linked to hunting activities and food procurement but a purely technological choice with the aim of antler acquisition. All elements of the antlers are present, suggesting that the entire antler was brought to the site where the transformation process took place. The management of this most important raw material was quite rigorous as indicated by the existence of caches of raw material and blanks (Boroneanț, 2018) – obviously connected to the seasonal availability of the raw material. Thus, damaged or lost tools could have been replaced easily. The same management in the use of antlers is indicated by the recycling and repair of the bevelled tools. Although damaged, they were not discarded but reshaped, thus prolonging their active life.
At Ostrovul Corbului, archaeozoological analysis (Haimovici, 1987) indicates that Cervus elaphus was the preferred game species (NISP = 969, 62.6%). Both types of antler (shed and unshed) were used on this site as well (Mărgărit et al., 2018).
Bone was used in an opportunistic manner, selected from among the remains of animals already hunted for meat and hide. Information on the species and type of bone used is scarce given that frequently only the diaphyseal wall of long bones was used.
Wild boar tusk implements are well represented in the Iron Gates Mesolithic. The largest assemblage comes from Icoana. This species figures prominently among the faunal remains from the site (43%), along with red deer (36.25%) and roe deer (9.22%). Contrary to Bolomey’s (1973) hypothesis of selective hunting of very young and very old animals at Icoana, Dinu et al. (2006) suggested that wild boars of all ages and sexes were hunted indiscriminately. This, together with the large number of pieces of wild boar tusk, would indicate two types of hunting expedition: one for females and sub-adults (capture of several individuals for food) and a second type, more dangerous, for solitary males (capture of a single specimen – for teeth and meat). The latter provided most of the raw materials for tools, as only adult males provide canines with dimensions similar to those of the Iron Gates artefacts. The collection of teeth from dead animals is less likely, as wild boar canines degrade rapidly and lose their mechanical properties. Moreover, at Răzvrata, this type of raw material is generally directly linked to hunting activities, reinforced by the high frequency of bones of wild boar among the faunal assemblage (Bălășescu, Boroneanț, & Radu, 2017).
The acquisition of the raw material in the case of wild boar tusks thus requires an additional effort related both to the hunting of the animal and its extraction intact from the mandible: many of the finished objects at Icoana are made from the root of the tooth, indicating its complete extraction, and not just by cutting off the visible part. Obtaining this raw material was a delicate and difficult operation, involving careful breaking of the bone around the tooth, so as not to damage the canine. This has been observed in at least six mandibles from wild boar males (Mărgărit et al., 2017b).
The presence of dog bones in large numbers is not uncommon at the Iron Gates sites, where they were at times part of the human diet (Bökönyi, 1970, 1978; Clason, 1980). Thus, both at Schela Cladovei and at Ostrovul Banului, dog teeth could have been obtained from the food waste, making their acquisition quite easy.
At all the sites analysed, different approaches to the processing of antler, bone, and tooth were observed. In the case of antler, most blanks underwent volume exploitation. The typological repertoire is limited, with a preponderance of bevelled artefacts. Percussion was the only technique used for longitudinal debitage. Transverse sectioning was accomplished exclusively by direct percussion at Icoana and Răzvrata, while at Alibeg, Ostrovul Banului, Schela Cladovei, and Ostrovul Corbului, sawing was also used. Surface modification was carried out predominantly by percussion (to create the oblique active end) and scraping. Abrasion was identified on only a few specimens. Volume modification is represented only by perforations, carried out by combinations of percussion and rotation.
In contrast, bone and tooth underwent modifications mainly by longitudinal debitage. The typological repertoire is limited, with pointed tools (for bone) and scrapers (for tooth) predominant. Three debitage methods were identified: bipartition, quadri-partition, and, much less frequent, splinter extraction (Ostrovul Banului). Productivity is thus higher for these two raw materials. The transformation scheme based on bipartition or longitudinal quadri-partition allows two/four similar blanks to be obtained, which can be transformed into finished objects. Longitudinal debitage was carried out mostly by percussion, and in some specimens also by a combination of grooving and percussion or double grooving and indirect percussion (Ostrovul Banului). Transverse sectioning was carried out by percussion and, exceptionally, by sawing. For surface modification, scraping was the most widely used technique, with diffuse percussion and abrasion less common. These techniques were combined on different items to shape the edge of a blank or the surface of the piece. Only scraping was used for creating or sharpening the active end. Sawing and grooving were also used to modify the surface of an artefact, the latter technique also being used for making decorations.
Typologically the repertoire is limited, with the predominance of a certain category for a particular raw material. The active end morphology proved not to be a good criterion for determining function; for example both the scrapers and bevelled tools made from boar tusk were used for woodworking.
Regardless of the site, antler was transformed mostly into bevelled tools. The artefacts are heavily worn, with very damaged (fractured) extremities with concave or linear morphologies. On some items, these were associated at the non-active extremities with compression and flaking. This suggests their use in direct percussion actions, in the case of those artefacts with hafting perforations, or indirect percussion for the other items. Such bevelled artefacts fall into the category of tools for working wood (splitting wood, bark peeling, etc.). This runs counter to earlier interpretations of these artefacts as having been used in incipient agricultural activities (hoeing or ploughing – Boroneanț, 1973, 1989, 2000).
Moreover, the fresh appearance of the scraping marks on many bevelled artefacts made on tines indicates periodic resharpening of the active front to extend their use-life.
Some of the pointed tools of bone were projectile points. The incised lines on the bevelled base, sometimes interpreted as decoration (Boroneanț, 2000; Păunescu, 2000), were probably intended to facilitate hafting. Other bone points were associated mainly with domestic activities, such as perforation of hides or bark, or used as basketry awls. The varying degree of hardness of the materials worked is reflected also in the different forms and degrees of the use-wear at the active extremity: rounded points in the case of soft materials, and fractured points for harder materials. For hide perforation, these pointed tools could also have been used with indirect percussion (Christidou & Legrand, 2005).
The implements made of wild boar tusks, regardless of their morphology, seem to be related to the processing of wood and bark (cf. Legrand & Sidéra, 2007; Maigrot, 2001; Sidéra, 2012). The artefacts from Icoana are heavily worn, with strong polish on their surfaces resulting from handling. In this case, the very fresh aspect of the scraping marks is indicative of periodic resharpening of the active front. Examples with strongly concave active fronts were likely re-sharpened many times until the piece became unusable.
Across the sites studied, regardless of the chronological period, there is little variation in the osseous assemblages in terms of typology, technology, or functionality. We see the prevalence of the same typological categories, differentiated also according to the raw material they were made from: antler for the bevelled tools, bone for the pointed tools, and tooth for scrapers. Other typological categories appear sporadically, with some represented by a single specimen. In terms of technology, the main element common to all sites was the use of volume blanks for antler processing and flat blanks for both bone and tooth. In addition to finished tools, these assemblages include various sub-products of the chaîne opératoire, thus suggesting in situ manufacturing. There is also notable specialisation of the antler and tooth equipment for wood processing, and of the bone equipment for hunting activities, woodworking and drilling by indirect percussion. However, among the assemblages analysed, we found no compelling evidence of the use of osseous artefacts for digging or plant cultivation, as some previous authors have suggested.
Despite this overall uniformity, there are elements specific to each site, although without a more precise absolute chronology, it is difficult to assess whether such differences were triggered by economic or cultural factors. We noted differences between the exploitation of shed and unshed antlers. There are also technological variations, such as the presence at some sites of the technique of antler segmentation by sawing, alongside segmentation by percussion (present at all sites analysed), or the use of grooving for the longitudinal debitage of bone. However, differences between sites in terms of typology and function are less evident.
Funding information: No specific funding was involved.
Author contributions: All authors accept responsibility for the overall content of this manuscript and have agreed to its submission. A. Boroneanț and C. Bonsall provided the archaeological information on the various sites and assemblages. A. Bălășescu carried out the faunal studies and M. Mărgărit performed the macroscopic and microscopic study of the osseous industries. All authors contributed equally to the manuscript.
Conflict of interest: The authors state no conflicts of interest.
Data availability statement: All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article.
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