Functional analysis of the Chalcolithic bone tools in Cova d’En Pardo (Planes, Alicante) and El Toro cave (Antequera, Malaga)
Recurrent references are made to the bias inherent in the archaeological record to justify the impossibility of providing meaningful answers about prehistoric human behaviour. However, the heuristic capacity of the methodology for studying archaeological evidence and materials is rarely questioned. Thus, in this presentation, the methods and techniques of study used to deepen the knowledge of craft activities during recent prehistory are collected. All of this is based on the integration of multiple variables within an interconnected social system of production, whose axis is the functional analysis of bone tools, as these are means of work related to the performance of daily handicraft activities in the heart of peasant communities. In this case, the results obtained in the study of the bone tool sets of Cova d`En Pardo and Cueva de El Toro are presented.
The functional analysis of the bone tools allows us to explore the causal relationships between the effect (artifact) and its cause (prehistoric human behaviour). Based on the characterization of the macro and microscopic traces and wear and tear and the information from the archaeological contexts, a present-past relationship is established, ranging from the visible (artifact, raw material, morphology, traces of manufacture and use, taphonomy, etc.) to the “invisible” (prehistoric human behaviors). The functional hypotheses have been contrasted by means of an analytical experimental program, with the aim of controlling the significant analysis variables. At the same time, experimental recreation of prehistoric activities is supported by ethnographic relational analogies (functional), which are not direct (morphological similarity), as well as by a system of abductive reasoning with the aim of obtaining the best explanation.
The results have made it possible to reconstruct the operative manufacturing chain and the technical solutions applied to implement the mechanical capabilities of the bone tools. In addition, it has been possible to infer a relationship of the bone tools with perishable crafts, such as vegetable (basketry and clothing) and animal (leather) textiles, bark extraction and activities related to personal hygiene and care. Similarly, the functional orientation of the archaeological contexts – fundamentally domestic in the high mountains in the case of the El Toro cave and, funerary, in the case of Cova d’En Pardo – gives the results a complementary character. This allows us to establish interpretations about the functional and social role of the bone tools in both spheres.
Finally, an integrated understanding of bone technology requires an analysis that goes beyond the definition of the industry, the “barrier” present in the raw material. In other words, in order to understand what bone tools are, it is necessary to explore the relationships between the different technological subsystems and activities in which they were used, whether as means of production or consumer goods.