Hafting microliths – from Scandinavian moors to high alpine slopes

Microliths, superstars of the Mesolithic lithic industries in Europe. They come in many shapes and yes even sizes. Somehow we are all captivated by the image of the hunter, stealthily moving through the green undergrowth at the edge of a forest clearing or through a shallow gully in the moors, it seems. It is in one of these moors that the arrow point described by Larsson and Sjöström (2011) was lost. It has long been established that microliths had many uses. Their acting as tips and barbs of arrows was certainly one of these, as this spectacular find from Rönneholms Mosse, southern Sweden shows. Four obliquely retouched triangular microliths attached to the ca. 10cm long hazel wood arrowshaft formed barbs. A fifth microlith was found immediately next to the arrow and seems to have once served as the tip of the arrow. The authors describe it as having an intermediate shape between an triangle and a lanceolate. So, are we in Central Europe solely dependent on Scandinavian finds for our understanding of the use of microliths?

The only other certain Mesolithic arrow point was found in 1951 in Lilla Loshults Mosse, Sweden (Larsson 2009, Malmer 1969). On one of two arrows found here, the tip, a true microlith, and a microblade, acting as a barb, were still attached to the shaft with resin. Two further microblades acted as tip and barb of a second arrow. Interestingly, Larsson (2009) writes that there are good reasons to believe the artefacts were intentionally deposited. At Vinkel and Holmegaard IV, both in Danmark, fragments of arrow shafts have been found (Becker 1945, Troels-Smith 1962).

arrowheads from Lilla Loshults Mosse, Sweden. Malmer 1969

arrowheads from Lilla Loshults Mosse, Sweden. Malmer 1969

Most often, though, we have to use less direct evidence and methods to establish the actual uses of microliths and stone tools in general. Occasionally artefacts are found within the skeleton of a hunted animal, such as the shaft fragment and 15 microliths/lanceolates with an aurochs skeleton at Prejelrup, Denmark (Aaris-Sorensen and Brinch-Petersen 1986). Or they are found in direct association with other archaeological evidence, which might indicate their use. Last but not least there’s the fantastic science of microscopic use wear analysis.

I know of two lithic artefacts with the remains of adhesive still attached to them found in the (southern) Central Alps. One is a small bilaterally and bifacially retouched asymmetrical arrowhead with some birch tar still attached to its “lower” half and was found under a rock-shelter at around 2400masl in the Val Urschai (Plan da Matun, L1). It can only be typologically dated to the very end of the Mesolithic/beginning of the Neolithic in the 6th Mill. cal BC (Reitmaier 2010). The other find, a naturally backed trapeze is a little older and comes from the younger occupational phase of the site CA1, Piano dei Cavalli (~2200masl). This phase has been dated to 6800-6400 cal BC (Fedele 1999).

Artefacts with traces of glue. L: Pian dei Cavalli, CA1. R: Plan da Matun, L1.

artefacts with traces of glue. L: Pian dei Cavalli, CA1, ~10mm wide (M: remains of glue), Fedele 1999. R: Plan da Matun, L1, ~15mm wide. Reitmaier 2010

All mentioned Scandinavian finds date to Maglemose culture, to the 9th and 8th mill. cal BC, except for the Rönneholm find that also has dates for the earlier part of the 7th mill. cal BC. The two alpine finds are thus undoubtedly younger. The published data do not allow us to say much more about either production or function of the alpine finds. For one, it is hard to say from the published data whether they were made using the microburin technology or not. Although the attached glue shows that it is likely both were once hafted, this is no conclusive prove for their function. From the published photo it seems, though, there is some impact damage on the tip of the Plan da Matun L1 artefact. This might indicate the use as an arrow point. Although microscopic use wear would be needed to exclude perforation and drilling as possible cause for this kind of damage (e.g. Smith 2007). The published data for the CA1 artefact sadly do not indicate any definite prove concerning function.

Although we can assume Mesolithic people, at least at times, came to the high Alps to hunt, these two finds alone cannot prove this, yet. Were these two small artefacts lost by a hunter or were they dropped by somebody gathering fruit or herbs, travelling across the pass to see relatives or on their way to collect raw materials like southern alpine flint? It would require further analyses of the hafting evidence and ResearchBlogging.org perhaps microscopic use wear analysis to provide further insights into the uses of late Mesolithic microlithic artefacts such as these two and the character of Mesolithic behaviour in the high Alpine zone.

Update January 2016: I wrote some more on the hafting of microliths: Hafting microliths II – North and south of the Alps


Aaris-Sorensen, K. & Brinch-Petersen, E. 1986. The Pjelerup aurochs – an archaeozoological discovery from boreal Denmark. In: Königsson, L.-K. (ed.) Nordic Late Quaternary Biology and Ecology (Striae 24), Uppsala: Societas Upsaliensis pro Geologia Quaternaria, 111-117.

Becker, C.-J. 1945. En 8000-arig Stenalderboplads i Holmgaard Moose: foreloebig meddelse, In Nationamuseets Arbejdsmark, 1945, 61-72.

Fedele, F. G. 1999. Economy and territory of high-altitude Mesolithic land use: The Central Alps. In: Della Casa, P. (ed.) Prehistoric alpine environment, society, and economy: Papers of the international colloquium PAESE’97 in Zürich, Bonn: Habelt, 25-36.

Larsson, L. 2009. The Loshult arrows: cultural relations and chronology. In: Crombé, P., Strydonck, M. V., Sergant, J., Boudin, M. & Bats, M. (eds.) Chronology and evolution within the Mesolithic of north-west Europe. Proceedings of an international meeting, Brussels, May 30th–June 1st 2007, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 131–139.

Larsson, L. & Sjöström, A. (2011). Early Mesolithic flint-tipped arrows from Sweden Antiquity, 85 (330)

Malmer, M. P. 1969. Die microlithen in dem Pfeilfund von Loshult, In Meddelanden fran Lunds universitets historiska museum, 1966-1968, 249-255.

Nielsen, E. 2009. Paläolithikum und Mesolithikum in der Zentralschweiz. Mensch und Umwelt zwischen 17000 und 5500 v.Chr., Archäologische Schriften Luzern, Luzern.

Reitmaier, T. 2010. Letzte Jäger, erste Hirten. Rückwege 2007-200, ein Zwischenbericht. Letzte Jäger, erste Hirten. Hochalpine Archäologie in der Silvretta, Zürich: Universität Zürich, Abt. Ur- und Frühgeschichte, 9-50.

Smith, S. 2007. The use wear analysis of chipped stone points. In: Finlayson, B. & Mithen, S. (eds.) The early prehistory of Wad- Faynan, southern Jordan: Archaeological survey of Wadi Faynan, Ghuwayr and al-Bustan and evaluation of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A site of WF-16, Oxford: Oxbow Books, 284-319.

Troels-Smith, J. 1962. Et pileskaft fra tidlig Maglemosetid, In Aarboerger for nordisk Oldkyndighed of Historie, 1961, 122-146.

One response to “Hafting microliths – from Scandinavian moors to high alpine slopes

  1. Pingback: Hafting microliths II – North and south of the Alps | hazelnut relations

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