This chert flake from Camooweal, Queensland, was created during maintenance of a horsehoof core. Horsehoof cores have a long usage period, extending from the Pleistocene to the Late Holocene.
The chert flake in this model was struck to clear the face of a horsehoof core. The edge of the core was significantly undercut by several series of step-flake resharpenings. The stoneworker then cleared the undercut area from the core by striking well-in from the step-flaked edge, creating this flake. The flake propagated under the step-flaking, removing it from the core face. Face clearing like this can usually only be done once or twice during the life of a core, as it removes a considerably part of the core’s mass. This flake is heavily patinated, suggesting that the artefact is very old. The horsehoof cores in this region are made on tabular chert nodules and tend to have shorter core faces (lower core ‘height’) than on southern versions made on silcrete. The primary core platforms on these cores are cortical surfaces, and this resharpening flake has a cortical platform. Most of these chert horsehoof cores are heavily patinated.
Horsehoof cores are unique to Australia. They are most common in western New South Wales and southern and eastern Queensland, particularly in regions where large-sized stones are available (especially silcrete). Horsehoof cores were also made in South Australia, including Kangaroo Island, and across the Great Sandy Desert into Western Australia. They are found in Pleistocene assemblages at Lake Mungo and were made into the Late Holocene, but they are rarely noted in historical accounts of traditional Aboriginal stoneworking. Horsehoof cores were thought to resemble a horse’s hoof when placed on a surface with the platform down.
Horsehoof cores are medium- to large-sized cores with a relatively flat platform with flakes struck from around the periphery. The initial series of flakes propagated the full length of the core face, but the defining characteristic is one or more additional series of much smaller stacked flake removals around part or all of the platform periphery. These smaller flakes end in step terminations. Often more than one series of these step-terminated retouching flakes were removed from the core, resulting in a platform periphery that is smaller in diameter than the core’s maximum diameter. Eventually the step-terminated flakes were cleared from the core by removing one or more larger flakes that run close to the core’s full length. These ‘resharpening’ flakes allow one or more additional series of step-flaking. Horsehoof cores were used as relatively heavy core tools, probably for woodworking or food processing, and the step-flaking was an ingenious way to resharpen a dull or clogged working edge while retaining most of the mass of the tool. An alternative explanation is that these are discarded flake-making cores which were abandoned after flaking mistakes, but this fails to account for the small size and the peripheral extent of the step-terminated retouching which defines these cores.
The primary platform on many horsehoof cores is the ventral surface of a very large flake blank. In fact, these horsehoof cores are a type of very large retouched flake. They can morphologically grade into smaller retouched flakes with ‘quina’-like step retouching. Some horsehoof cores have a cortical primary platform, indicating that they were made directly on stone cobbles or chunks. Far less common are horsehoof cores with the primary platform composed of a large negative flake scar. A design criteria for these tools appears to have been a flat or slightly convex platform surface, rather than the slightly concave surface created by a negative scar. Many horsehoof cores have secondary platforms established one the core’s base, where a small number of flakes have been removed. In many cases, this appears to have been done to remove mass and facilitate the removal of flakes the entire length of the core face from the primary platform. Many horsehoof cores are single-platform, and although those with secondary platforms are technically multiplatform cores, archaeologists rarely classify them this way.
Some horsehoof cores have a grinding slick on the primary platform surface, showing that some of them were used as topstones. Horsehoof cores in southeast Queensland have also been recorded with macroscopic silica gloss on the sharp platform edge. Horsehoof cores in northeast Queensland were observed with heavy rounding and abrasion on the base of the core, consistent with pounding relatively soft organic material. Perhaps the most common secondary use-wear of horsehoof cores is heavy battering of the core’s base from use as a hammerstone for stone-flaking or to process hard materials. These secondary traces occur in various combinations on some cores. The larger flakes struck to make and maintain horsehoof cores were probably also used as tools, adding another aspect to the multifunctional nature of this tool.