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What are these barbs for?

Preliminary Study on the Function
of the Upper Magdalenian Barbed Weapon Tips


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Based on previous works by M. Julien (1982) and G.C. Weniger (1995), this paper presents some preliminary hypotheses on the possible functions of the osseous barbed points from the Upper Magdalenian (ca. 13 500-12 000 cal BC). Taking as a starting point the statement that their appearance and development coincide with an increased interest in small animal hunting (fish, birds, lagomorphs), we attempted to correlate the relative abundance of barbed points with the representation of small game, but the data from our test area (Northern Pyrenees) did not provide conclusive results. A survey of the barbed points of Northern American hunter-gatherers known by ethnography shows a clear functional trend: “simple” barbed points are mostly used for fowling, for hunting big and small land game, and for war; while “true” harpoons are mostly used for fishing and hunting sea mammals and aquatic mammals. However, when based on a rigorous operational definition of harpoons, the morphology of the Magdalenian barbed points appears not to allow their positive classification as harpoon heads. Thus, their function remains largely undetermined. We therefore suggest several possible directions for future research on this topic.

To cite this article

Pétillon J.-M., 2009 – What are these Barbs for? Preliminary Study on the Function of the Upper Magdalenian Barbed Weapon Tips, in Pétillon J.-M., Dias-Meirinho M.-H., Cattelain P., Honegger M., Normand C., Valdeyron N., Projectile Weapon Elements from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Neolithic, Proceedings of session C83, XVth UISPP World Congress, Lisbon, September 4-9, 2006, P@lethnology, 1, 66-97.