Type:  Macroblade (Leilira) Knife

Location: Barkly Tableland, Northern Territory



MoST ID: 6467

Pedestal Link: https://une.pedestal3d.com/r/5Mr-BHGV06

Model Author:  Emma Watt

This chert macroblade knife is from the Northern Territory, and is referred to in the Aranda language as leilira.  The macroblade was made in the historical period and a handle made from the resin of spinifex grass was moulded around the macroblade’s proximal end.  The knife was inserted into the paperbark sheath that you can view in this model.

This chert macroblade is similar in colour and texture to the stone found on the Barkly Tableland in the Northern Territory. The blade was struck from the core behind a long, straight ridge on the core face, which forms the knife’s central ridge. The knife is unusually long for this type of chert, which rarely occurs in large nodules.  The skilled stoneworker was able to made the flake terminate in a point without subsequent retouch to achieve this shape, although minor trimming was done on the edges near the handle. Macroblade knives were used by men in ritualised fighting to settle disputes; combatants aimed to scar their opponent on the legs or back. They were also used in mundane tasks requiring a sharp tool. This knife was kept in a paperbark sheath to protect the tip and edges, which you can view here.  Some of the spinifex resin handle on this specimen has broken away.  The precise age of this tool is unknown, but it was likely made in the early or middle 1900s.

Blades are elongated flakes that measure at least twice as long as they are wide.  In Australia, a blade measuring more than about 40 mm long is referred to as a ‘macroblade’.  Macroblades were made by hard-hammer percussion following various strategic methods.  The Camooweal Method of macroblade manufacture, practiced in northwestern Queensland, has been described in detail.

Macroblade manufacture emerged in Australia in the Middle Holocene, by about 7000 BP, and proliferated from about 5000 BP.  They were made into the recent past.  Macroblades are common in stone artefact assemblages across Northern and Central Australia, and large macroblade manufacturing quarries are found throughout the region.  They were extensively traded, a practice which continued into the 1990s in the Northern Territory.  In the historic period, macroblades were made for use as knives with wood or resin handles, or were hafted as armaments on darts cast with spearthrowers.  Some macroblades were exceptionally large, although most encountered by archaeologists measure less than 100 mm long.

Archaeologists often divide macroblade points into unifacial and bifacial variants.  Unifacial points are usually retouched towards the dorsal surface to create the distal point and shape the edges, with unifacial or bifacial flaking at the proximal (platform) end to thin and shape it for hafting.  Bifacial points are retouched to both faces along both margins.  Macroblades were sometimes shaped in certain ways to produce regionally-specific tool types, such as Juan knives in Queensland and Yilugwa knives in Central Australia.  Large-sized Pirri Points were sometimes made by pressure flaking on macroblades.

Some archaeologists think that unifacial points turned into bifacial points through resharpening.  This may have been true in some cases, but the narrow width of macroblades does not allow for the type of bifacial thinning seen on, for instance, Kimberley Points or Northern Territory Triangular Points.  Other bifacial points, such as Wanji Bifaces and some bifacial points in western Queensland, were made on tabular pieces of raw material and not macroblades.