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2016-06-16 03:12:51   •   ID: 1371

The Art of Polishing

Figure 1
Beads during the Neolithic were often broken in the drilling process.

Therefore the polishing of the beads was only done after successful drilling of a hole with the help of a polishing stone. A typical Neolithic stone polisher from the Sahara is shown here.

Polishing is the process of creating a smooth and shiny surface by rubbing it or using a chemical action. Polishing of organic or inorganic rough outs or chipped stone artifacts, functionally improved the characteristics of tools that were used for domestic purposes and the hunt.

Polishing may have had not only a functional but also an aesthetic function, but we do not know whether the latter dimension was of real interest for prehistoric man.

After 1994, eight carefully polished wooden spears were found at Schöningen, lower Saxonia, Germany, along with stone tools and the butchered remains of more than 10 horses.  The Schöningen site represents one of the earliest secure evidence of large game hunting.  Schöningen 13II−4, is dated to an interglacial some 300 k.a. ago.

The  frontal center of gravity of these spears suggests that they were used as javelins and not as thrusting spears as suggested by proponents of a “Prehistoric man before Sapiens was probably not always a scavenger, but if he or she hunted, he or she was not able to throw a spear over wider distances….-theory”.

The oldest polished bone tools during the Paleolithic are from the MSA of South Africa. At Blobos, about 20 pieces of worked bone were uncovered from the Still-Bay Layers. These bones (which are probably from seal) have been shaped to use for the purposes of piercing, gouging, or drilling.

Two of these bone tools were worked into points by polishing and grinding, and possibly firing. One of these points even appears to have been polished with ochre. It has to be mentioned that, polished bone, antler and ivory tools became only common during the Upper Paleolithic.

Since the last 10 yrs. polished bone tools have been found during several excavations in S-Africa (Sibudu Cave and other locations).

Back to the “polished Stone Age “ - the Neolithic: The word ‘Neolithic’ was first coined by Sir John Lubbockin 1865 and 1869. Few data about the Stone Age were available to archaeologists at this time.

Megalithic monuments; the Swiss lake dwellings and Danish shell middens; river gravels or ‘drift’ in the Somme and other valleys, that contained handaxes and the bones of extinct mammals; and the bone caves of France and, Britain that contained reindeer and extinct mammals associated with artifacts. The question was how to arrange these data groups in time.

In the second edition of Pre-historic times of 1869 Lubbock defines his periods:

  1. "That of the Drift; when man shared the possession of Europe with the Mammoth, the Cave Bear, the Woolly-haired rhinoceros, and other extinct animals. This we may call the ‘Palaeolithic’ period.

  2. The later or Polished Stone Age; a period characterized by beautiful weapons and instruments made of flint and other kinds of stone; in which, however, we find no trace of the knowledge of any metal. This we may call the ‘Neolithic’ period.”

It is reported, that the earliest polished stone tools may have been produced during the Paleolithic of South China and Japan (adzes and axes), dated to around 30-20 k.a. BP. Unfortunately I have no access to any detailed article about this topic, which may have appeared in a peer-reviewed journal in English or French. For me it seems reasonable, that polishing stone artifacts may have occurred before the Neolithic, because the polishing technique was already well developed.