This stone axe from the Northern Territory was made in the early 20th century.
The hafting method used on this tool is typical for Aboriginal stone axes, which were secured by bending a thin wood lath or split vine around the stone. The green wood or vine was heated over a fire so it could be bent without breaking. The axe in this example was secured with native bees wax which was moulded around the stone axe-head and wood handle, with fibre string added to the bees wax to increase the haft’s strength. The stone axe-head was decorated with stripes of white, yellow, and red ochres. The meaning of the decoration is unknown.
The axe is part of the Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology teaching collection, University of New England.
See the annotations for technological details about this stone tool.
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.