Fresh from the Trench: Buzz-Bones

Pig foot bone with drilled hole.

Right at the end of the day yesterday, another bit of worked bone came out of the trench near what we’ve been calling The Stump. This bit of medieval wall seems to include two different fills of rubble that still has us scratching our heads, but we’ve found 13th century green-glaze in and around it.

The Stump.

When it first came out, we thought we had another toggle, as we already had two, but our two previous possible toggles were made of the shafts of long bones. This new bit of bone is a pig phalange (axial metapodial), and the more we looked at it, the more intrigued we were. The particular choice of bone and placement of the drilled hole could suggest this was used as an instrument or toy.

Squeaky clean buzz-bone.

Known as buzz-bones, these simple sound-makers have been found in contexts from the prehistoric period through the medieval period. You run a string through the hole and thread one or more on a cord that you twist. When you pull the string, they spin, creating a buzzing or humming noise. The worked bones were commonly misidentified as toggles across Europe, but evidence in modern Scandinavia and Shetland have fostered confidence in recent years that it was an implement often used by children.

Figure 17 showing how the buzz-bones worked from York Archaeological Trust’s Insight Report, Games and Recreation c. AD1400-1700 (Nicola Rogers, 2017).

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