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Hunter-gatherers of the old and new worlds: Morphological and functional comparisons of osseous projectile points

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The osseous projectile points and tools of hunter-gatherers from the European Pleistocene compare surprisingly well with the equipment of hunters from other continents, including the New World. This is especially true for harpoon heads and barbed spear points. These fundamental hunting and fishing weapons are common to the prehistoric populations of the Old World and to hunter-gatherers of the northern and southern regions of the New World. In southernmost South America, osseous projectiles have survived the millennia since the first human occupations, about 6200 years ago, until modern times. Beyond certain typological, and likely functional, constants that are commonly found among cold region hunters, they also display specific features (size, morphology of the proximal ends, raw materials) that seem to reflect techniques and hunting strategies associated with particular species. In this chapter, our intention is to examine potentially meaningful similarities between this equipment from Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, known through both archaeological and ethnological documents, and that of European Pleistocene hunters. We will emphasize certain morphological and technical features, such as proximal shapes for hafting mechanisms or line attachment systems, and the number and type of barbs, along with their functional causes and consequences. Our results indicate that in the current state of the debate, fishing, fowling and small mammal hunting is the most plausible hypothesis for the use of barbed elements in the terrestrial context of most Upper Magdalenian sites. Though we cannot exclude the possibility that Upper Magdalenian groups were among the very few hunter-gatherers to use detachable harpoons to hunt larger terrestrial species, such as ungulates when crossing rivers, specific evidence is currently missing.




Christensen, M., Legoupil, D., & Pétillon, J. M. (2016). Hunter-gatherers of the old and new worlds: Morphological and functional comparisons of osseous projectile points. In Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology (pp. 237–252). Springer.

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