Type:  Macroblade (Leilira) Knife Sheath

Location: Barkly Tableland, Northern Territory



MoST ID: 6471

Pedestal Link: https://une.pedestal3d.com/r/lvwdT4_VwZ

Model Author:  Emma Watt

This paperbark and string sheath for a leilira stone knife is from the Northern Territory.  The macroblade stone knife was fitted with a spinifex resin handle and was inserted into the sheath to protect the edges and tip.  The knife that fits in this sheath can be viewed in this model.

This paperbark sheath was made to protect the edges and tip of the macroblade knife in this model.  The bark was wrapped around the stone knife and secured by wrapping with three types of fibre string.  A stone knife, within its sheath, was tucked under a hair string belt for carrying by some Aboriginal people in Central Australia.  The precise age of this tool is unknown, but it was likely made in the early or middle 1900s.

Blades are elongated flakes that measure at least twice as long as they are wide.  In Australia, a blade measuring more than about 40 mm long is referred to as a ‘macroblade’.  Macroblades were made by hard-hammer percussion following various strategic methods.  The Camooweal Method of macroblade manufacture, practiced in northwestern Queensland, has been described in detail.

Macroblade manufacture emerged in Australia in the Middle Holocene, by about 7000 BP, and proliferated from about 5000 BP.  They were made into the recent past.  Macroblades are common in stone artefact assemblages across Northern and Central Australia, and large macroblade manufacturing quarries are found throughout the region.  They were extensively traded, a practice which continued into the 1990s in the Northern Territory.  In the historic period, macroblades were made for use as knives with wood or resin handles, or were hafted as armaments on darts cast with spearthrowers.  Some macroblades were exceptionally large, although most encountered by archaeologists measure less than 100 mm long.

Archaeologists often divide macroblade points into unifacial and bifacial variants.  Unifacial points are usually retouched towards the dorsal surface to create the distal point and shape the edges, with unifacial or bifacial flaking at the proximal (platform) end to thin and shape it for hafting.  Bifacial points are retouched to both faces along both margins.  Macroblades were sometimes shaped in certain ways to produce regionally-specific tool types, such as Juan knives in Queensland and Yilugwa knives in Central Australia.  Large-sized Pirri Points were sometimes made by pressure flaking on macroblades.

Some archaeologists think that unifacial points turned into bifacial points through resharpening.  This may have been true in some cases, but the narrow width of macroblades does not allow for the type of bifacial thinning seen on, for instance, Kimberley Points or Northern Territory Triangular Points.  Other bifacial points, such as Wanji Bifaces and some bifacial points in western Queensland, were made on tabular pieces of raw material and not macroblades.