The Noailles burin, the predecessor of the sewing needle

The Noailles burin, the predecessor of the sewing needle

A team of researchers led by the Prehistory Area of ​​the University of the Basque Country has just published, in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports, an article dedicated to the functionality of one of the most characteristic and enigmatic tools of the Gravettian period, the so-called 'Noailles burin‘.

The article proposes for said burins a use mainly to pierce the skin or a similar soft perishable organic matter, thus being the ancestors of needles.

The sample analyzed comes from recent excavations carried out by archaeologist Christian Normand in the Basque-French cave of Isturitz, which houses one of the most important deposits of that period in the entire European continent.

The work presents the results achieved in the technological, typometric, morphotypological and, mainly, functional analysis (supported by an experimental program) of the Noailles burin collection from level IV of the Isturitz cave.

This is one of the few studies published to date on this subject, which contrasts with the importance and number in which such utensils usually appear, of the order of thousands in sites such as Isturitz.

What was the Noailles burin for?

The Noailles burin It is a small utensil (often less than 3 cm in length and 2 cm in width) made, in most cases, on a small sheet of flint.

To this, an abrupt concave retouch is applied to the distal edge, creating a small platform. called truncation, from which one of the lateral edges of the sheet is removed; this creates a pointed end, which would be the functional part of the tool.

The analysis showed that these small burins are useful highly standardized intended for specialized and precision tasks.

Specifically, the distribution and the type of traces of use observed in them at the microscopic level led the researchers to propose the hypothesis that the Noailles burins from the Isturitz cave were used mainly in drilling work, mainly of low hardness materials such as animal skin.

Certainly, the effectiveness of these tools in this type of task is very high, as the authors appreciated after experimentally reproducing this activity.

All this can be related to what is observed in funeral contexts of other European gravetian deposits as Sunghir (Russia), Arene Candide or Ostuni (Italy), in which graves with grave goods made up of hundreds or thousands of beads.

These ornaments would originally have been sewn decoratively to garments such as hats, jackets or pants.

Therefore, “the Noailles burins from the Isturitz cave could be similarly employed within clothing drilling processes or other types of leather elements for decoration with beads or other similar objects. In that sense, the Noailles burin would precede the first sewing needles (as we know them today), which appeared in the period immediately after the Gravettian, the Solutrean ”, highlights the researcher Aitor Calvo.

Bibliographic reference:

Aitor Calvo, Unai Perales, Maite García-Rojas, Christian Normand and Alvaro Arrizabalaga «Just before sewing needles. A functional hypothesis for Gravettian Noailles-type burins from Isturitz cave (Basque Country, southwestern France) »Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (Volume 25. June 2019. Pages 420-432).


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