Antler technology in the Late Eneolithic / Early Bronze Age Vučedol culture
Vučedol culture is a Late Eneolithic / Early Bronze Age cultural complex widespread in the southern Carpathian basin, in present-day Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary and in later phases it was widespread even in Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia. The sites include several large tell settlements, excavated since the late 19th century and in the early 20th century, such as eponymous Vučedol, Vinkovci and Sarvaš-Gradac in Croatia, Zók in Hungary, etc., but also waterlogged site of Ljubljansko Barje in Slovenia, and cave site of Hrustovača in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The richness of ceramic findings, especially finely decorated vessels in peculiar shapes, as well as abundant evidence for metallurgical activities, occupied the attention of earlier researchers, while some of the aspects of the Vučedol material culture remained less explored, such as the bone industry.
The assemblages from excavations carried out in the late 19th-early 20th century from the sites of Vučedol, Sarvaš-Gradac and Zók provided some very interesting results regarding the use of osseous raw materials. Particularly rich are items made from antler, predominantly red deer antler, that include large amounts of manufacture debris, large, heavy duty tools such as axes, adzes, hammers, etc., as well as some finely made items, such as toggle harpoons. These items also show evidence of being processed with metal tools, and this is the earliest evidence of the use of metal tools in bone industry in the region.
In this paper will be analysed manufacturing procedure, the typological repertoire, as well as the place of the antler industry within the everyday activities of the Vučedol culture communities. Manufacturing debris included all segments of antlers – basal parts, beams, tines, crown segments. Basal parts show that shed antlers predominate (bois de chute), although there are examples of bases from killed animals (bois du massacre). Traces of transversal sawing with a metal tool are the most common traces encountered, along with scraping, also with metal tools. Sometimes objects have perforations, usually circular, but few rectangular perforations were noted as well.
Predominant techno-types are artefacts made from basal and beam segments with a cutting edge at distal end, or double-sided – basal part used as percussion tool and the distal end modified into a cutting edge. Tines were mainly modified into some sort of smaller chisels and wedges. Toggle harpoons represent the most carefully made objects, produced through several stages, finalised by scraping and burnishing. Beside finished harpoons, there are also few examples of semi-finished ones from the site of Sarvaš-Gradac. Toggle harpoons may have been used in fishing, but their careful manufacture suggests they were valued objects. Also, should be mentioned peculiar small elongated artefacts, in a shape of short rods, recovered at Zók. These objects do not have analogies, and their function is not certain; they were most likely some sort of decorative items. Some even have incised decoration – zigzag and transversal parallel lines.
The antler industry was well developed, production can be characterized as relatively large scale, and the working areas of workshops were present at all three tell sites, thus pointing to the possibility of some level of craft specialisation.