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THE AMATEUR ARCHAEOLOGIST ONLINE

"Palaeolithic Whistles or Figurines? A Preliminary Survey of Pre-historic Phalangeal Figurines."
By Duncan Caldwell

ABSTRACTS & LINK TO ARTICLE

ABSTRACT. Prehistoric phalanges with anthropic holes through one side of their shafts have usually been interpreted as whistles. But identical bones are used by several peoples as human effigies -- most commonly of women and babies. Distal limb bones with incised or sculpted heads, eyes, arms, and vulvas prove that such bones were also interpreted anthropomorphically by Eurasian cultures in the past. The use of phalangeal figurines from central Siberia to Greenland also suggests that the practice spread around the Arctic from ancient sources. Ethnographic examples illustrate a few roles women have played in the region's cold weather economies and how female effigies reflect such roles but are not offered as strict analogies to Palaeolithic counterparts. Instead, a case is made from new internal readings of several prehistoric objects incorporating feminine imagery that some ancient feminine images reflect a vision of women in keeping with the division of labor in northern hunter-gatherer subsistence models. The possible existence of perforated phalanges from the Middle Palaeolithic and even earlier is noted. A protocol of tests is suggested for determining whether their holes are anthropic or natural. If any turn out to be man-made, then the conclusion that prehistoric perforated phalanges are likely figurines can be extended to archaic humans like Neanderthals.

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