This silcrete pirri point is from South Australia. Pirri points date to after ca. 5000 BP, and they document the earliest use of the pressure-flaking technique in Australia. Points like these were made by the Kokatha people.
The artefact is part of the Archaeology and Palaoanthropology teaching collection, University of New England.
The long, narrow Pirri point in this model is an excellent example of the pressure flaking technique in Australia. All flaking was done towards the dorsal surface of the flake blank, and the blank’s platform is still present at the proximal end. The manufacturing sequence first involved the removal of broad, widely-spaced collateral pressure flakes. These flakes terminated at the centre of the blank, creating an exceptionally prominent central ridge. This suggests that the face of the stone was unrestricted; a restricted face would cause the flakes to ‘roll-over’ the centre, eliminating the central ridge. Following the initial large-scar pressure flaking, the edges were refined and the shape created by non-invasive small-scar pressure flaking.
Pirri points were named by the ethnographer George Aiston in the 1920s, applying the term for them used by Diyari and Wangkangurru people near Lake Eyre in Central Australia. ‘Pirri’ referred to pointed engraving tools for woodworking made in the historic period, although similar tools were likely used as armatures for spearthrower darts in the past. They usually measure between about 20 mm and 40 mm long, although larger examples are known.
Pirri points were made by pressure flaking–this manufacturing technique is the type’s defining characteristic–and they are the earliest evidence in Australia for the pressure technique. Retouch was mostly unifacial, towards the dorsal surface of the blank, although the platform and bulb was sometimes reduced by bifacial flaking. Pirri points typically have a prominent central ridge down the dorsal face with the pressure flake scars terminating at this ridge. Well-spaced collateral pressure flaking scars are visible on many pirri points. Some pirri points were made on blade-like flakes. Pressure flaking spread from Central Australia to the Kimberley region of Northwest Australia by ca. 1400 BP, where a bifacial technique was used to make Kimberley points through to the 1970s.
Aiston observed a Wangkangurru stoneworker manufacture a pirri point in the 1920s near Oodnadatta. Aiston’s informant was making a pointed tool for engraving wood, rather than a dart point. The stoneworker first secured the flake blank at right-angles to a stick using pitch and unifacially retouched the exposed margin by percussion with a hammerstone. Next he took the blank from the pitch, rotated it, re-embedded it into the pitch, and retouched the opposite margin. After this, the blank was taken from the pitch again, set on a grinding stone anvil, and the distal end was unifacially pressure-flaked to a sharp point using the ventral surface of ‘a worn-out scraper that has thickened up into a “bull-nose” through use’. The combination of percussion- and pressure-flaking contrasts with pirri points from the archaeological record, which were made entirely by pressure flaking. Aiston noted in 1924 that ‘the art of making these seems to be lost among the tribes here’, and that the ones he saw made did not match the expertly-fashioned tools in the archaeological record. Only one elder was able to demonstrate the pressure flaking method. Aiston’s informants requested that he give to them the ancient pirri points he found so they could re-use them as engraving tools. The well-spaced pressure-flaking scars on many ancient pirri points suggest that a different technique was used from that observed by Aiston.