International Council
for Archaeozoology

Worked Bone Research Group

 The Worked Bone Research Group (WBRG) was formed during an informal meeting of circa 30 specialists of whom 10 gave papers. The meeting was organized by Ian Riddler and was held at the British Museum in February 1997. The proceedings of this first meeting were published in 2003 (see publication information below).

The purpose of the WBRG is to improve communication between individuals studying worked animal hard tissues (especially bone, antler, and ivory) with special emphasis on archaeological finds. A broad diachronic, and multi-disciplinary approach is emphasized in order to promote the exchange of ideas concerning attitudes to and procurement of raw materials, technology, and cognitive aspects of working osseous materials of all kinds.

Topics at recent conferences have included discussions of individual assemblages, the results of experimental research on both manufacturing techniques and use wear, including macro wear with low stereoscopic magnifications and micro wear employing a metallographic light microscope with a great deal of emphasis on verification of identification by experiment. Attention has also been increasingly focused on selection of raw materials and the relationship between technology and continuity of social traditions. The level of scientific discussion at these meetings has been increasingly high with the active participation of many younger colleagues. Despite the wide range of periods represented, the essence of the discussions dealt with methodological and theoretical considerations rather than details of local typologies. There is a sense that a general consensus is beginning to emerge around approaches to this class of archaeological object.

The WBRG has held its biennial international conferences at the following locations:

  • The 1st conference was a one day conference in February 1997, held at the British museum and organized by Ian Riddler.
  • The 2nd of these conferences was organized by Alice M. Choyke in Budapest, Hungary, in early September 1999 (38 papers). Participants at the Budapest meeting unanimously voted to apply for formal registration as an ICAZ Working Group. In June 2000 at the ICAZ International Committee Meeting in Madrid, the WBRG became an official Working Group of ICAZ.
  • The 3rd International Meeting of the WBRG was held in Augst, Switzerland, on September 4-9, 2001. It was organized by Jörg Schibler and his team from the University of Basel, Seminar für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Abteilung Archäobiologie (since 2003 called Institut für Prähistorische und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie (IPNA)). Publication of the papers is pending in the German series of Archaeologie International.
  • The 4th WBRG meeting was held in Tallinn, Estonia, organized by Heidi Luik of the Institute for History. Altogether 25 papers were presented together with a large number of posters. The location meant that quite a few of the assemblages discussed came from the Baltic region. Requests for more information can be made to Dr. Luik. The organizers published the proceedings in the Journal of the Institute of History of the Estonian Academy of Sciences in Tallinn, Estonia.
  • The 5th WBRG meeting was held in Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria, at the end of August 2005. Milena Stancheva of the Regional Historical Museum in Veliko Turnovo with help from Petar Zidarov, now teaching at a university in Sofia, organized a meeting with 39 participants, 28 presentations and 11 posters from Europe and the United States. The Department of History, University of Turnovo, together with the Archaeological Museum of Veliko Turnovo were the host institutions.
  • The 6th WBRG meeting was held in 2007 at the Maison de l'Archéologie et de l'Ethnologie (MAE), Nanterre University, Paris, France. This provided a good chance to showcase some of the seminal work on worked osseous materials carried out by colleagues in the French CRNS group over the last 40 years. Their research results represent an incredible data resource for less well funded researchers in this field around the world. Isabelle Sidéra, Eva David and Alexandra LeGrand-Pineau put together a well-organized meeting with 39 read papers and nine posters. There were altogether 60 participants from 22 countries.
  • The 7th meeting of the WBRG was held from the 7th-11th of September 2009 at the Archaeological Institute of the University of Wroclaw, Poland. It was organized by Justyna Baron, Marcin Diakowski, Bernadeta Kufel and colleagues. The volume of proceedings was published in alimited hard copy and on-line: Baron, Justyna & Kufel-Diakowska, Bernadeta (eds.): Written in Bones. Studies on technological and social context of past faunal skeletal remains, Wroclaw: Instytut Archeologii Uniwersytet Wroclawski.
  • The 8th meeting of the WBRG was held from the 29th of August to the 3rd of September 2011 at the University of Salzburg, Austria. It has been organised by Felix Lang and Wolfgang Wohlmayr of the Department of Classical Studies of the Universität Salzburg and the Österreichisches Forschungszentrum Dürrnberg.
  • The 9th meeting of WBRG was convened by the Henan Administration of Cultural Heritage, and the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Zhengzhou City, Henan province, China from April 14- 20, 2013. This was the first meeting of the Worked Bone Research Group to be held outside of Europe! Please download the first communication for further information.

In addition, the 2006 ICAZ meetings in Mexico also saw an entire session was organized entitled Bone Raw Material Exploitation in South America, devoted to presentation of these varied assemblages. This session offered people interested in worked bone studies a chance to see what our Central and South American colleagues having been working on. The session was organized by Vivian Scheinsohn from Argentina. The Raw Material sessions at the Paris ICAZ in 2010, organized by Alice Choyke and Sonia O'Connor will soon be published by Oxbow Books and will be entitled From These Bare Bones: Raw materials and the study of worked osseous objects.

A number of perennial problems encountered by worked bone specialists should be mentioned here. Separation of artifacts recognized as worked in the field from objects pulled out of the faunal assemblage remains a serious practical problem, often resulting in a single assemblage being divided and even analyzed in two separate parts. Zooarchaeologists are also rarely trained in recognizing the waste from tool manufacture so this kind of information on manufacturing practices often gets lost in faunal assemblages. We also face the need to carry out focused ethnographic research on how living people actually choose to use bone as a raw material and how they use and discard bone tools and ornaments. People still regularly using bone implements are rapidly disappearing. In many cases, only the older generation has any memory of the role of bone tools played in various kinds of social interaction, critical imponderables which are very difficult to get at from archaeological materials alone. Finally, despite the increasing interest in worked osseous materials, jobs paying people to do this kind of analysis remain far and few between, even in France. Thus, many of these new, excellent scholars will have a difficult time continuing such work after their studies are over.

The WBRG group runs a closed mailing list (bonetools@listserv.iif.hu). Enquiries or announcements can be placed there. A website run out of the University of Basel at: http://www.wbrg.net/ (Hans Christian Küchelmann, webmaster).

WBRG Publications:

  • 1st Meeting: Materials of Manufacture: The Choice of Materials in the Working of Bone and Antler in Northern and Central Europe During the First Millennium AD edited by Ian Riddler (2003). BAR International Series 1193. Archaeopress, Oxford.
  • 2nd Meeting: Crafting Bone: Skeletal Technologies through Time and Space edited by A. Choyke, and L. Bartosiewicz (2001). British Archaeological Reports International Series 937. Archeopress, Oxford.
  • 4th Meeting: From Hooves to Horns, from Mollusk to Mammoth: Manufacture and Use of Bone Artifacts from Prehistoric Times to the Present edited by H. Luik, A. Choyke, C. Batey, and L. Lõugas (2005). Muinasaja Teadus 15. Tallinn.
  • 8th meeting (Salzburg 2011): The Sound of Bones. Proceedings of the 8th Meeting of the ICAZ Worked Bone Research Group in Salzburg 2011,edited by Felix Lang (2013). Archaeo Plus. Schriften zur Archäologie und Archäometrie der Paris Lodron-Universität Salzburg 5
  • 7th meeting (Wroclaw 2009): Written in Bones. Studies on technological and social contexts of past faunal skeletal remains, edited by Justyna Baron & Bernadeta Kufel-Diakowska (2011). Wroclaw. The proceedings can be downloaded from the WBRG website: http://wbrg.net/meetings/wroclaw-2009
  • 6th meeting (Paris 2007, and a session at ICAZ 2006 Mexico City): Ancient and Modern Bone Artefacts from America to Russia. Cultural, technological and functional signature, edited by Alexandra Legrand-Pineau, Isabelle Sidéra, Natacha Buc, Eva David, and Vivian Scheinsohn (2010). British Archaeological Reports International Series 2136, Oxford

This information has been contributed by Alice M. Choyke, WBWG Liaison to ICAZ. Last update: Oct. 2013. Anyone wishing to inquire about the WBRG should write to her either at Choyke@ceu.hu or h13017cho@iif.hu.