Bone Sewing Needles (a brief history of…)

11,000 year old bone needle from the Horn Rock Shelter, Texas.

11,000 year old bone needle from the Horn Rock Shelter, Texas.

I still remember when one of my professors, in a lecture about culture-changing innovations, discussed the eyed needle as both a major technological innovation and a proxy for much more. Eyed needles imply sewing and it is not a major leap to conjecture some level of tailored clothing and bags. Leather was abundant in hunter-gatherer societies and can be made into many things. Humans moved into cold climates early on and well-made clothing is a real boon in that environment. Unfortunately, for the archaeologist, such small, degradable materials rarely survive outside caves and rock shelters. The best, oldest example I am aware of in the Americas is the Horn Rock Shelter in Bosque County, Texas. Have a look at the short history below and check out the Texas Beyond History page for more about Horn Shelter.


Bone needles and sewing kit made by the author.

Rearview Mirror


A set of bone needles from the Cave of Courbet in the Aveyron Valley, near Toulouse, France. Believed to be over 13,000 years old. Image: BBC Gallery

The humble sewing needle needs no introduction. Everyone has likely seen one used or has used one to sew that damn hole in your favourite sock ! Sewing needles and clothing go hand in hand. Without the use of a sewing needle, early man would be still wearing his crude jocks around his ankles ! Our modern sewing needle is the direct descendent of the flint or bone needle (awls) used by humans thousands of years ago. The first needles would have likely been made by using a flint tool. Splinters of bone would have been cut out and trimmed roughly into a pointed shape.  It likely then went through a process of being polished smooth with sand, water and a soft stone…

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One thought on “Bone Sewing Needles (a brief history of…)

  1. i’ve made and used bone needles before; with “stone age” methods no less. there’s a proper sense of nostalgia involved in both processes i’ve found. i love ’em! that is until they snap in half mid stitch hahaha. but that’s the joy of using this tight weave, small fibre, jet loom crap they sell for modern cloth innit? makes me want to become a weaver and produce some cloth that’s worth sewing with.

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