The following is a copy of an article I published in a beautiful but obscure book in Italy. Distribution and circulation in the US is extremely limited, and I thought this would be the best way to get exposure. I scanned the text and it was changed into text by OCR. The illustrations are also scanned and are linked to the text.



édité par

J. Hahn- M. Menu- Y. Taborin- Ph. Walter- F. Widemann




Bruce A. Bradley

Résumé- L'os et l'ivoire ont été employés pour la fabrication d'objets sur des sites nord-américains de la fin du Pleistocène. Pour la plupart, ces objets sont en association avec des espèces animales éteintes. Leurs formes sont relativement simples et la majorité d'entre eux ne presente aucun décor. Ils ont une fonction utilitaire à l'exception un seul type associé à un enfouissement et à une cachette qui pourrait avoir eu également une fonction cérémonielle.

Abstract- Bone and ivory artifacts have been recovered from sites in North America that date to the end of the Pleistocene and are associated with extinct animals. The artifact forms are relatively simple and mostly unadorned. The majority had utilitarian functions, but one form associated with a burial and a cache may have served a ceremonial function.


The most widely accepted earliest human occupation of the New World occurred at the end of the Pleistocene, approximately between 12,500 and 11,000 B.P. At this time, large fauna still existed, including mammoth, mastodon, horse, camel, ground sloth, tapir, and bison, among others. Later, most of these forms became extinct or evolved into different species (as in the case of bison). Artifact assemblages from sites of this age vary somewhat from region to region in North America, but all include distinctive bifacial projectile points, many basally thinned or fluted. In addition, assemblages may include side scrapers, end scrapers, gravers, bifacial knives, and bone and ivory artifacts Figure 1 Burins are very rare or not present. Flaked stone technology was predominantly bifacial, but blade-flake production from prepared cores was also present in some areas. For the purposes of this treatise, I have chosen to subsume all of the various artifact assemblages associated with extinct megafauna and that date before 11,000 B.P. in a general category called Clovis.

Archaeological sites that have yielded fluted points and extinct megafauna have been identified throughout North America Figure 2 and represent a variety of functional site types. These are dominated by kill sites where animals were dispatched and butchered, but also include campsites, workshop areas and quarries, artifact caches, meat caches, and burials. Generally speaking, bone and ivory preservation is better in the west than in the east, with one notable exception. Eastern soils and deposits tend to be acid, while western soils and deposits are either neutral or basic. The one example of excellent bone and ivory preservation in the east is underwater, in springs and rivers of northern Florida.

Bone and Ivory Artifacts

The following discussion concerns bone and ivory artifacts that exhibit substantial intentional shaping and modification. Expedient bone tools have also been identified and described in some sites but are not considered here.

East Wenatchee

Recent excavations in a site near East Wenatchee, in central Washington, have yielded an astounding assemblage of stone arttracts and a group of bone artifacts probably fashioned from mammoth bones (Mehringer 1989; Mehringer and Morgan 1988; Gramly n.d.). Large fluted bifaces and finished fluted projectile points Figure 3 dominate the assemblage of artifacts recovered from what has been interpreted as an artifact cache. It has also been speculated that there may have been a burial, but no human remains have been recovered. Additional artifacts are known to remain in the site. Of interest here are twelve bone artifacts Figure 4 that were recovered in direct association with the flaked stone artifacts. A thirteenth bone artifact remains in place, and there is evidence that a fourteenth was destroyed by carnivore activity. These artifacts were scattered around the site and also in a shallow pit with at least one cluster of bone rods. Evidence of prehistoric carnivore activity indicates that the distribution of the artifacts, especially those made of bone, probably does not directly reflect their original positions. Although preservation is fair to poor, enough remains to describe some of these objects in detail. Most, if not all, are slightly flattened cylindrical bone rods that have bevels on both ends. The bevels are always on the same side, but are usually at slightly different angles at opposite ends. The rods were evidently made from the limb bones of large animals, probably mammoth. Some retain evidence of the interior cancellous tissue of the bones. Grinding and polishing have obliterated evidence of the initial stages of manufacture of the objects. When preserved, most of the flattened beveled surfaces exhibit shallow incisions that are perpendicular to the long axis of the rods. Three specimens have minimal decorative incisions on their surfaces.

The bone rods vary substantially in size, with lengths ranging between 125 mm and 276 mm, with a mean of 225 mm. Widths range between 14 mm and 30 mm, but 11 of the 12 range between 24 mm and 30 mm. It is interesting to note that there are groups of rods that share the same width measurements. There are three that are 24 mm wide, four that are 26 mm wide, and two that are 29 mm wide. Altogether they have a mean width of 25.5 mm, and if the smallest is not included, they have a mean width of 26.5 mm. Width was clearly more standardized than length.


The Anzick site is located in southwestern Montana, and was discovered during earthmoving activities (Lahren and Bonnichsen 1974). All of the artifacts were recovered from disturbed contexts. This site was very similar to the East Wenatchee site in that it contained a large number of bifacially flaked stone artifacts, including Clovis points, a few unifacially retouched tools, and bone rods. A notable difference from East Wenatchee was the presence of the partial remains of two subadults at Anzick. The human bone and the artifacts were stained with red ocher.

Eleven bone rods were identified in the materials collected from the disturbed deposits of the site. These included two complete rods, four beveled ends, and five midsection pieces. Detailed information about these artifacts has been published (Lahren and Bonnichsen 1974) but a short summary is in order here. These rods are very similar to those from East Wenatchee, except that one of them had one tapered, rounded end, and the other end was beveled. Six of the seven rod bevels exhibit incisions, primarily in a cross-hatching pattern. An organic residue thought to be resin was noted on six of the seven beveled ends.

The Anzick bone rods Figure 5 are about the same sizes as those from East Wenatchee, except that they are proportionally longer and narrower. The two complete specimens (Figure 5a) measure 220 mm and 281 mm in length, but the range of widths is between 15 mm and 20 mm with a mean of 17.9 mm. As with the East Wenatchee bone rods, there seems to be a greater standardization of width than length.


The Sheaman site is located in Wyoming very near to its boundary with South Dakota and Nebraska. This locality contained a concentration of bifacial reduction flakes, a Clovis point, several flaked stone tools, and an ivory artifact concentrated on a buried surface (Frison and Stanford 1982).

The ivory artifact (Figure 5b) is very reminiscent of the bone rods from East Wenatchee and Anzick. It is a flattened cylinder that tapers slightly to one broken end. The other end terminates in a flat bevel which was lightly incised with a cross-hatching pattern. The artifact's length (not including the missing portion) is 203 mm, and it is 13 mm in width. This makes it proportionally even longer and narrower than the bone rods discussed above. A distinctive break at the tip suggests that this object struck a resistant material with some force.

Murray Springs

Murray Springs is located in southern Arizona not far from the border with Mexico. Three other Clovis sites (Lehner, Naco, and Escapule) are nearby. Murray Springs and Lehner are animal kill locations, while Naco and Escapule may represent mammoths that died after being speared and eluding the Clovis hunters. Only one formalized bone tool (Figure 5c) has been recovered from any of these sites, and it was recovered from Murray Springs. The unusual bone tool is 259 mm long, 21 mm thick, and shaped like an eyebolt. The head, 58 mm wide, has a 25 - to 30 -mm hole bored through the center. The handle is 34 mm wide where it joins the head and gradually tapers to an approximate width of 21 mm at the opposite end. The wall of the hole has been purposely beveled, the most pronounced beveling occurring at the top and bottom of the hole (Haynes and Hemmings 1968). This artifact is unlike any others that have been recovered from Clovis sites.

Blackwater Draw

The Blackwater Draw site is actually a series of localities (one of which is the Clovis type site) in a wash area that extends for several miles from northeastern New Mexico into Texas. It was in this general area that Clovis artifacts were first identified as associated with the remains of mammoth (Cotter 1938). Other, later paleoindian sites and localities have also been investigated in the vicinity. A number of bone and ivory tools have been recovered from Clovis contexts in the Blackwater Draw area. These include expedient tools as well as carefully shaped specimens. These tools were directly associated with flaked stone tools, including Clovis points, and mammoth remains (Hester 1972).

I have been able to locate references to four artifacts called bone points, an awl, a bead, a possible ornament/flaker (Hester 1972), and an ivory burnisher- billet (Saunders et al. 1991 ). Only one of the bone points is complete. It has a flattened round cross-section that is beveled at one end and tapers to a point at the other. Oblique scratches are visible on the bevel. The total length of this artifact is 237 mm and its width is 17.2 mm. These dimensions fall well within the range of the bone rods from the Anzick site. The other three specimens are fragmentary, but all closely resemble portions of the complete artifact.

The bone awl is a small bone fragment on which a narrow tapered point has been ground. The possible bead is a small rounded rectangle of bone that has had perforations drilled from both ends, but they do not meet and the hole is incomplete. A fragment of a possible canine tooth exhibits polish and has been interpreted as a possible ornament or flaker. The ivory burnisher-billet is a short, cylindrical section of mammoth ivory with slightly convex ends. It measures 73.5 mm long, 46 mm wide, and 34.8 mm thick.

In addition to the bone and ivory tools described above, an interesting ivory artifact has been recovered from Blackwater Draw. This item is well described and reported (Saunders et at. 1990: 112 - 119). "The artifact is circumferentially cut distal segment of the right tusk of a mammoth, cf. Mammuthus columbi. It measures 73 cm along its outside curvature. Maximum diameter occurs at the place of detachment: the transverse diameter of the tusk at this position is 9.7 cm. The vertical plane is sinuous and spiral, terminating in a slight medial inflection; the horizontal plane is upcurved. The segment is solid and was cut before the ivory separated along the concentric 'lines of Owen', indicating that it was carved while the ivory was fresh."

The article goes on to describe in detail the technological process used to cut through and detach this segment of tusk Figure 6. The final intended form for this artifact is unknown, but such a segment of ivory could have been further modified into a beveled rod like those from East Wenatchee and Anzick, a projectile point like those found in other areas of Blackwater Draw, or one or more burnisher- billets.

Florida Rivers and Springs

Numerous specimens of ivory and bone 'pins' or foreshafts have been recovered from rivers and springs in northern Florida (Jenks and Simpson 1941: 314-319; Dunbar et al. 1989: 473-497; Dunbar 1991: 10-14). Due to the acidic upland soils too often typical in the southeastern United States, there have been no carved ivory pins found in terrestrial paleoindian sites in Florida. All of the ivory specimens from Florida have been found in submerged river channel locations: locations that were inundated by inland water table rise by the mid Holocene. The single largest concentration of ivory pins, which accounts for over half of the sample, comes from the lower, karst section of the Aucilla River in northern Florida. Other river basins that have produced ivory pins include the Santa Fe, Ichetucknee, and Oklawaha rivers. (James Dunbar, personal communication, 1992).

While most of the known specimens were recovered from stratigraphically mixed deposits, recent archaeological excavations have found them in late Pleistocene deposits directly associated with extinct fauna, including mammoth and mastodon. Flaked stone projectile points and other tools are also associated with these artifacts. Projectile point types commonly include Clovis fluted and Suwanee.

That many of the 'pins' were made from ivory, with indications that it was fresh as opposed to fossil at the time of modification, also indicates an early association. The bone 'pins' are very similar in shape and relative proportions to those recovered from Clovis sites in the western United States. They are, however, smaller. Generally speaking, they are roughly cylindrical and taper to a point at one end. The opposite end terminates in a fiat bevel Figure 7.

The typical ivory pin varies in length, probably from being broken, retrieved and reworked into a shorter implement. The best preserved specimens show that the pieces were burnished to a slick surface except for the platform end that was roughened and grooved for hafting. Other than the burnishing of the shaft and the platform roughening, few specimens show other markings. Two exceptions are specimens that have designs (James Dunbar personal communication, 1992).

Other Possibilities

Several bone implements that closely resemble those from known early associations have been recovered from unclear contexts. Rainey (1940) reports that "long, polished bone points" were found along with various other artifacts during placer mining operations along the Tanana River in the Fairbanks District of Alaska. Although some of the stone artifacts are clearly of post-Clovis origin, others resemble early points from the United States. The remains of extinct animals are also found in the same deposits. At this time it is unclear whether or not the bone points were associated with Clovis deposits, but it is possible, and the artifacts are very similar to those with known early associations.

A cylindrical bone point of unknown association was found in southeastern Saskatchewan in the early 1900s and reported in the late 1960s (Wilmeth 1968). There are no dated geological or artifactual associations for this artifact, but the probability that it was made from the long bone of a mammoth or mastodon, and its resemblance to bone points of known Clovis age association, indicates that it probably was of early manufacture.

Another long bone point has been described from lower Klamath Lake in southern Oregon. The presence of a blue silt staining on the point that is also present on mammoth bones has been used to argue that the bone point was as old as the mammoth bones (Cressman 1942: 99-100). The similarity of this specimen to other artifacts of known antiquity probably indicates that it was of Clovis origin.


Three of the double-beveled bone rods from the East Wenatchee site exhibit simple decorative embellishment. Two have a zipper-like design incised into their interior surfaces along the centers of the artifacts. Unfortunately, preservation is poor and details of the individual incisions are not clear. The third specimen exhibits small curved incisions on the outside of the beveled end of a bone rod. These shallow incisions cover the surface and resemble fingernail impressions.

Two of the ivory 'pins' from Florida exhibit incised decoration, extending from the interior end of the bevel and down the shaft toward the tapered end. One of these designs is a zigzag pattern (Figure 7a) and the other is a series of parallel lines that run transverse to the long axis (James Dunbar, personal communication, 1992).

Functional Interpretations Figure 8

Six basic forms of complex Clovis ivory and bone artifacts have been reported: double-beveled bone rods, bone and ivory projectile points, a cylindrical ivory burnisher-polisher, a perforated bone rod, an awl, and a bead. Only the first two categories contain more than one item. Double-beveled bone rods have been found at East Wenatchee and Anzick, and both sites included large numbers of flaked stone artifacts, especially bifaces and projectile points. Anzick was a burial site and East Wenatchee was at least an artifact cache, if not a burial site. These are not the only known Clovis cache localities; others have been found in southern Idaho (Butler 1963), southwestern Wyoming/western Utah/southern Idaho (Frison 1991), and northeastern Colorado. Only Anzick has been directly associated with human remains.

Lahren and Bonnichsen (1974) have proposed that the double beveled bone rods from Anzick may have been foreshafts for spears. Clovis points would be hafted onto one of the bevels and the other would have been lashed to a wooden main shaft (Figure 8a). Dunbar (1991) has also presented a case that the ivory pins from Florida may have been foreshafts with fluted stone points hafted to the scored bevel and the pointed end inserted in a socket in the main shaft (Figure 8b). Gramly has proposed that the bone rods from the East Wenatchee site may have been composite sled runners (personal communication, R. Michael Gramly, 1992), tied together and lashed to wooden sled runners (Figure 8c). The bevels on the ends of the rods would allow enough overlap to produce a continuous composite runner. Gramly refers to similar bone sled shoes used by Inuits, but readily admits that much more study needs to be done before this theory could be supported or rejected.

I have difficulty in accepting either theory. Skids for sled runners seems highly unlikely because of the complexity of the lashing technique that would have had to be used and the inevitable interference that such lashing may have caused. One might also expect distinct wear patterns to quickly develop. Decorative embellishment also would have no visibility.

Hafting Clovis points onto the bevels of the bone rods, incorporating a wedge, would have produced a very bulky and weak connection. Personal experience with hafting and using replica Clovis points indicates to me that penetration through the hide of an animal would have been severely impeded by this configuration. Dunbar's interpretation does not include a separate wedge on the opposite side of the stone point from the bevel, and is partly based on the breakage patterns observed on the artifacts. Although this ha~ing method would be less bulky than the wedge method, the connection between the stone point and the ivory foreshaft would be quite weak. Controlled experimentation, that closely simulates actual hunting conditions, would shed light on this theory. I would also like to keep open the possibility that the bone pins from Florida may not have been portions of hunting equipment, and may have served entirely different functions.

Since all of the double-beveled rods have been recovered from caches and burials, I would like to propose the following theory. Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institution found that the beveled ends of the bone rods fit very well together and that conjoining several would produce a straight shaft. This shaft could then be brought to termination by the addition of a bone rod with one beveled and one rounded end. It is most unlikely that such a shaft would have been serviceable as a spear or other functional tool. Rather, I believe that such an item could have served as a scepter, or ceremonial staff (Figure 8d). If one would group the bone artifacts from East Wenatchee that have the same diameters (within I mm), and assume that there were two equivalent-sized single bevel rods for each group, three staffs would result. With overlaps calculated, one staff would have a diameter of 24 mm and a length of 1.36 m, another would have a diameter of 26 mm and a length of 1.02 m, and the third would have a diameter of 29 mm and a length of 1.12 m. The association of the double-beveled rods with caches of spectacular flaked stone items, red ocher, and burials, but not with kill sites or campsites, suggests that they may have been more than portions of weapons. A possible analog in the Old World are the ivory rods/staffs found in the double burial at Sungir, Russia.

The only site where double-beveled rods have been found in context, East Wenatchee, has not yielded support for any of these theories. Most were found in a fairly tight cluster. If they were sled runners or scepters, one would expect them to be lined up. On the other hand, if they had been foreshafts, one might expect haftable projectile points to be in positional association. Neither was the case in this situation. Gramly has indicated that there probably was post-interment disturbance by carnivores. If this was the case, one would expect the bone artifacts to be dispersed, not clustered.

Bone and ivory artifacts that have one beveled end and one pointed end have been found in kill sites, in direct association with the front limb of a mammoth at Blackwater Draw, and in campsites. Tip breaks on some of these also suggest that they were used as projectile points. Bone projectile points with demonstrated manufacture technology have also been recovered from the following time period, after the extinction of mammoth, (Frison and Craig 1982: 162-165). Some of these have distinctive breaks, interpreted as resulting from impact (Figure 9a). Even though these are associated with a bison kill/campsite, it is believed that they would not have been effective for killing bison (Frison and Zeimens 1980: 231-237).

The ivory cylinder from Blackwater Draw is interpreted as having been used as a billet for flaking stone and possibly ivory, and also as a burnisher. This interpretation is based on use-wear patterns and comparison to similar objects from eastern Europe (Saunders et al. 1991: 359-363).

The perforated rod from Murray Springs has been interpreted as a shaft straightener (Haynes and Hemmings 1968) and their arguments are quite convincing. The awl from Blackwater Draw probably served as a perforating tool for hide- working, and the uncompleted perforated bone artifact may have been intended to become a bead. The modified canine tooth is too incomplete to interpret functionally.


Fully-formed Clovis age ivory and bone tools are rare. This may have more to do with the nature of site preservation than it does with the implements actually having been a minor component of the Clovis tool kit. Although scarce, they are widely distributed. By far the largest numbers have been recovered from underwater locations in Florida and in two caches/burials in Washington and Montana. Little evidence of the methods of manufacture of any of the items has been found. Ornamentation is minimal and rare, and representations of animals and human beings are totally absent. Although most of the artifacts probably served a utilitarian function, the double-beveled bone rods may have been conjoined into ceremonial and/or burial objects.

A greater diversity of formalized bone and antler tools and manufacture technologies are documented for the time period, 10,900-10,300 B.P (Folsom), immediately following Clovis on the High Plains of North America. Artifact types Figure 9 include projectile points (9a), flaking tools (9b), eyed needles (9c), and cut and incised pieces (possibly ornaments or gaming pieces) (9d). Manufacture techniques include "Grooving, incising, abrading, chopping, polishing, and drilling (Frison and Craig 1982: 162). Virtually all of these materials are known from sites interpreted as base camps that included structures. It is very likely that these artifact types and manufacture techniques extend well back into Clovis times and will be found if and when well-preserved Clovis campsites are excavated.


This paper was produced in response to an invitation to a conference on the manufacture and use of ivory in the Upper Paleolithic by the European University Centre for the Cultural Heritage, Ravello, Italy. The lead time was very short, and I owe much to the help and support I received from the many colleagues who supplied unpublished data as well as directing me to specific references. I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Michael Adler, Robson Bonnichsen, James Dunbar, George Frison, C. Vance Haynes, Bruce Huckell, David Meltzer, Jeffery Saunders, David Webb, and especially R. Michael Gramly, who supplied the illustrations of the previously unpublished East Wenatchee bone tools, and permission to use them. Illustrations were drawn and supplied by several individuals: 1 a, 1 b, 5 a-5 b, 9 - Connie Robinson, courtesy of G. Frison; 1 c- 1 h, 3 - Sarah Moore, courtesy of P. Mehringer; 2 - Tom May; 4 - Val Waldorf, courtesy of R. Gramly; 5c - courtesy of C. Haynes; 6 - from Saunders et al. 1990 Figure 4; 7, 8b - courtesy of James Dunbar; 8a - drawn from Lahren and Bonnichsen 1974 Figure 3; 8c - courtesy of R. Gramly. The remaining illustrations are by the author. Although I received substantial assistance, the contents of this article are my sole responsibility.


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