Type:  Hafted Stone Axe

Location: Hungerford, Queensland



MoST ID: 6631

Pedestal Link: https://une.pedestal3d.com/r/fMRvB4hztk

Model Author:  Mary-Anne Stone

This hafted volcanic stone axe likely dates to the late 19th or early 20th centuries.  It was obtained south of Hungerford in southwestern Queensland, within the traditional country of the Budjiti people.

The artefact is curated by the Armidale Folk Museum, Australia, catalogue number 983.2.155.

This small hafted axe was obtained by pastoralists from Aboriginal people on a cattle station south of Hungerford, Queensland, near the border of New South Wales.  The handle is made from an unidentified plant, probably an acacia species.  Traditionally the stick for a stone axe handle was cut and split while green, and then bent by heating it up over hot coals and incrementally applying pressure to both ends.  The heated stick can eventually be bent back onto itself, with the stone axe pinched at the apex on the inside of the curve.  On this example, the stick apparently bent off-centre so the ends of the handle are of unequal length.  The axe head is made from a volcanic stone.  Although quite small, stone axes of this size are common in the archaeological record across eastern Australia.  The axe was made entirely by bifacial percussion flaking.  The working edge of the axe was minimally ground and is marked by coarse striations from grinding and/or use-wear.  The axe was wedged into the bent handle and large amounts of resin were packed around it, filling the gaps.  The resin may have been made from mindrie plant (Lechenaultia divaricata), which is local to the region where the axe was made, although it may also be from the spinifex plant (Triodia sp.) or grass tree (Xanthorrhea sp.).  The resin was mixed with substantial amounts of a grass chaff as ‘loader’ to give the resin added strength.  Small numbers of quartz sand grains also occur in the resin.  The resin has mostly broken from around the axe head and has been lost, with one resin section still remaining.  The handle below the head was bound with a relatively thick cord made from twisted plant fibres.  The cord was then secured into place with a coating of the same resin used to pack around the stone axe head.

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.