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The cultural roles of perforated fish vertebrae in prehistoric and historic Europe

Makowiecki, D., Ritchie, K. and Pluskowski, A. (2021) The cultural roles of perforated fish vertebrae in prehistoric and historic Europe. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 31 (6). pp. 1125-1137. ISSN 1099-1212

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1002/oa.3025


This paper provides a new synthesis of perforated fish vertebrae in prehistoric and historic Europe, with a particular focus on Poland, within the broader context of Central and Eastern Europe. The earliest examples of such artefacts in Europe date from the Upper Palaeolithic, but compared to other ‘beads’ manufactured from animal bone, perforated fish vertebrae are rare. This paper examines the diachronic trends in the range of species that have been chosen for such objects, as well as their depositional contexts. Despite the wide range of freshwater and marine species exploited by people, only the vertebrae of a few species—especially pike and catfish—were selected for use as beads. There is a general shift from their deposition in funerary contexts in prehistoric European societies to their association as low-status objects associated with Christian private devotion in the post-conversion period. However, this may not reflect continuity in the use of fish vertebrae, with a shift in their symbolism after the conversion to Christianity, given the substantial chronological gaps in the archaeological record. This synthesis nonetheless provides a solid foundation for contextualising future archaeological finds of such artefacts.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Archaeology
ID Code:110338


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