This quartzite Kimberley dart point is from the Northwest Kimberley, Western Australia. The point was made in the recent past.
This point is made from fine-grained quartzite. Yellow, pale orange, and red quartzite is referred to as bilirri, after the sound feet make in walking through sand. This high-quality material occurs as case-handed ‘pillows’ on the top of hard sandstone exposures throughout the northwest Kimberley. Aboriginal flintknappers removed the stone through oblique blows oriented onto the sides of the pillows, breaking away flakes and fragments, and resulting in distinctive basin-shaped hollows after the stone was removed. The point was likely shaped initially by percussion flaking, but expert invasive pressure flaking has removed all of the percussion scars. Broad pressure flaking scars extend to the centre of the point. The serrations may have been done with a kangaroo fibula. The extreme tip of the point has broken off.
Expert bifacial pressure flaking was practiced from late prehistory in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, from ca. 1400 BP continuing through the 1970s. Kimberley points were traditionally made from fine-grained quartzite in the northwest Kimberley, and high-quality chert, chalcedony, and metasedimentary stone in southern and eastern areas. Kimberley people call the points tjimbila. After the European invasion into the area, points were also made from glass or ceramic. Many Kimberley points are exceptionally beautiful objects and they were highly desired by anthropologists and collectors in the early and middle 20th century. They can be found in museum collections around the world.
In traditional Kimberley cosmology, the original invention of Kimberley points was by Wodoi—the spotted nightjar—but human flintknappers refined Wodoi’s techniques through the invention of invasive flaking. Miriuwung people in the east Kimberley believe pressure flaking was given to humans by the frill neck lizard. Kimberley point technology emerged in the context of the Wanjina religion, and images of Kimberley points were sometimes portrayed in Wanjina-style rock art images. These are associated with animal images, but never with images of the Wanjinas themselves, who did not need human weapons. Clans were descended from a Wanjina founding ancestor and were linked across the Kimberley through a complex network of marriage alliances and trade obligations called wunan. Kimberley points were made and exchanged as part of the wunan networks—particularly larger points, measuring greater than 50 mm long—and wunan was part of a wider trading system that included desert-adapted people southeast of the Kimberley. Desert people of Central Australia did not make Kimberley-style points, and when they received them in trade, they used them as knives rather than dart points, usually in ritual contexts.
Stone Kimberley points were made by percussion thinning of the biface blank using a small hammerstone, followed by invasive pressure flaking. The vast majority of modern flintknappers in North America and Europe support the biface in the palm of the left hand when making pressure-flaked points and knives—the technique observed in use by many Native American people during the historic period. Kimberley flintknappers, in contrast, supported the biface on a small stone anvil set on the ground in front of them. The flat-topped anvil stone measured about 15 x 15 cm, and was selected from sandstone rocks available nearby. The flintknapper sat cross-legged in front of the anvil, or with one leg extended. A piece of paperwork was placed on the top of the anvil to cushion the biface and to make it easier to dust the sharp flakes from the anvil’s surface. The biface was laid on the anvil and the forefingers placed underneath the far edge, raising the edge up about 30-60 degrees. The thumb was placed on top of the biface. The pressure flaking tool was held in the opposite hand with the palm upward and the tip of the pressure-flaker extending beyond the inside edge of the hand. The back of the hand rested on the anvil surface. The tip of the pressure-flaking tool was placed on the platform edge, with firm inward pressure, and the tip of the tool was moved forcefully downward toward the anvil surface, initiating the crack. For small flakes and edge-turning in platform preparation, this was done by rotating the wrist. To remove larger flakes it was necessary to raise the hand from the anvil surface, with pressure applied down the length of the arm by leaning inward, and additional force was induced by raising the upper body from the hips. The wrist was held firm and the weight of the body added the necessary force. The face of the biface at the point of flake detachment did not touch the surface of the anvil, thus allowing the flake to propagate along the free face of the biface, terminating at the biface’s centreline. To finish the point, the edges were carefully serrated by pressure flaking.
Three types of pressure flakers were used to make Kimberley points: a relatively thick piece of hardwood with a rounded end, the ulna from an adult male kangaroo, and the fibula of a kangaroo for detailed work and serrating. In the historic period, stiff fencing wire was used for pressure flaking, particularly on pieces of glass and ceramic. The wire was sometimes hammered into a spatula-shaped tip. Exceptionally fine serrations were made using hammered wire or a penknife blade, particularly on glass points. Kimberley flintknappers made points from the sides of the bottles rather than the bases.
Point-making began in the Kimberley with macroblade manufacture, reflecting a common manufacturing method across northern central Australia. Points made on macroblades proliferated in the Kimberley after about 5000 BP, but may date as early as 7000 BP. Macroblade edges were often trimmed to shape by direct hard-hammer percussion flaking. Macroblade points were made into the recent past. Bifacial pressure-flaked points emerged by ca. 1400 BP in the southern Kimberley, but pressure-flaked points may date as early as 3500 BP in the north Kimberley. Points made by sophisticated bifacial percussion thinning, and finished by expert pressure flaking, likely arose relatively late in prehistory, but perhaps as early 1400 BP. One archaeologist has argued that these sophisticated points arose after the European incursion, to ‘enchant’ the invaders, but various lines of evidence show that the points were being made long before European colonists arrived. This includes the extensive archaeological record of Kimberley point manufacture, the integration of points in wunan relationships, and the theft of these points by sailors skirting the coast in 1821, long before significant European interaction beginning in the 1880s. Instead, the emergence of Kimberly point manufacture from about 1400 BP may signal of a sudden increase in between-clan solidarity as part of wunan-like obligations within the Kimberley region. At the same time, the contrast in flintknapping methods reinforced social differentiation with neighbouring desert-adapted Aboriginal people, which were expanding in population around the same time.