This metavolcanic grooved axe is from the Central Coast of New South Wales, dating to the Late Holocene, after 5000 BP. The axe is from the traditional country of the Dhungatti people.
The metavolcanic axe in this model was made from a river or beach cobble using the technique of pecking, or hammer dressing. A shallow, narrow groove was pecked around most of the axe’s diameter to receive a wrap-around wood handle. Pecking involves striking the stone with a hammer to pulverise the material at the contact point. Using this technique, stone was shaped incrementally by repeated blows. The peck-marks on this axe are very small, indicating the use of relatively small hammerstone and/or light pecking blows. The workmanship is outstanding because the tool’s bifacial edge was produced almost entirely by pecking.
The axe is part of the Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology teaching collection, University of New England.
The earliest-known edge-ground stone axes in the world are found in archaeological sites in Australia, and are over 40,000 years old. They were made continuously from the earliest occupation of the continent through to the recent past, and are still made in New Guinea today. Stone axes were made in vast numbers during the Middle and Late Holocene period, from about 10,000 years ago, and Aboriginal people developed extensive trade networks for axes made of particularly prized stones. The anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner, writing in 1933 about ceremonial trade on the Daly River of the Northern Territory, said that ‘there can be nothing more useless in the native economy than a pile of [stone axes] with nowhere to send them.’ Axes were also symbolically and ritually important, with story sites for axe quarries and mythological figures wielding stone axes as weapons. For instance, Namarrkon, an Ancestral Being in Arnhem Land in Northern Australia, uses stone axes affixed to his head, elbows, and knees to create the intense lightning in storms that signal the arrival of the monsoon. Axes were integrated within the cultural system in the historic period, and axe manufacture and use was embedded in various social roles. Stone axes in the recent past were usually mounted onto thin wood handles and affixed with plant resin or native bees wax.