9th Experimental Archaeology Conference poster – Inall and Sewpaul

An Experimental Archaeology Project Examining the Manufacture and Efficacy of Iron Age Bone Spearheads

Yvonne Inall (University of Hull) & Naomi Sewpaul (University of Bradford)

Manufacture and efficacy of bone spears copyright Inall and Sewpaul

Copyright Inall and Sewpaul

In Britain bone spearheads were in use from the Palaeolithic until at least the Iron Age (IA). This prolonged usage indicates these were effective weapons and form part of the equipment of British IA warriors. They have been found at over 40 IA sites. The types of context in which they are found in include burials, votive deposits and settlement sites.

The River Witham, near Fiskerton in Lincolnshire was a focus for deposition of bone spearheads and other weapons throughout the Late Iron Age, and into the Romano-British Period. Over 50 bone spearheads are preserved from the site.

The prevalence of bone spears from IA contexts in Britain suggests that they were frequently used. Many examples show damage to their tips indicative of contact with hard surfaces. Faunal analysis indicates that hunting did not form a significant part of the diet of IA communities in Britain. Thus, it appears that bone spears were constructed for use against other human beings in interpersonal violence.

The construction of bone spearheads would have been largely seasonal. Spearheads made from bone would have been more economical to produce compared to metal spearheads.We propose a number of experiments; firstly the manufacture of spearheads from tibiae of Soay sheep (the closest species to that utilised in the Iron Age) and spear shafts from hazel (Corylus sp.). We shall test the spearheads against moving and stationary targets (to simulate battlefield conditions), with a view to record all of these processes as an accessible archive.

These experiments will ascertain the efficacy and durability of bone spears as weapons, and highlight the human biomechanics of their use, through motion capture technology. The experiments will explore whether bone spears are better suited to being thrown, or the delivery of thrusting blows, and if thrown, what distances are achievable.

Olsen, S.L. 2003. ‘The Bone and Antler Artefacts: Their Manufacture and Use’, In: Field, N. and Parker Pearson, M. 2003 Fiskerton: An Iron Age and Timber Causeway with Iron Age and Roman Votive Offerings: the 1981 Excavations, Oxbow Books: Oxford: 92-111


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