Bone needles

Late Magdalenian, about 12,500 years old
From the cave of Courbet, Penne-Tarn, France

Needles first appear in western Europe on Upper Palaeolithic sites about 35,000 years ago. They show not only a newly found skill in working bone, but also suggest that skins and furs were being used to make such items as clothes, shoes, tents, blankets, nets and bags, as well as the production of thread. Due to the organic nature of the material, none of these articles have survived.

By about 12,500 years ago, needles sometimes occur on sites in large numbers. There are at least 370 from Courbet. Just like modern needles, they vary in size. The different sizes may have been used for particular tasks.

Making needles took quite a long time. Using a flint tool, splinters of bone were cut out and trimmed roughly to a tapering shape. They then had to be polished smooth using sand, water and a soft stone rubber. The eyes could be made perfectly round if a stone drill was used, or oval if made by making grooves on each face parallel to the needle edge. Both eye types are to be seen on the needles from Courbet.

Thread was probably made from animal hair, gut or sinew, the fibrous tissue which connects muscles to bone.

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Length: 3.800 cm (min.)
Length: 3.800 cm (min.)

Museum number

P&EE 1864.12-26

not found on MERLIN


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