This retouched chert flake is from Wilson Creek in the Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory. The artefact was recovered from the surface in 1971 and likely dates to the Holocene period. It resembles tools called tjimari by Aboriginal people in Australia’s desert regions.
This tool is made from white chalcedonic chert similar to the stone from the quarry site of Pulanj-pulanj, visited by Norman Tindale with Aboriginal people in 1963. One edge of the flake is thicker and more carefully retouched than the opposite edge. The thick curved edge was likely encased in the resin handle. The opposite straight edge is irregularly retouched and shows micro-flaking damage, probably from use. It may have been resharpened several times. The tool is relatively small for a tjimari (5.23 cm long) but is much larger than most kandi hafted adzes used in the Australia’s desert regions.
The famous anthropologist Norman Tindale observed stone tool manufacture in the Western Desert, northwestern South Australia, throughout the 1930s-1960s. He worked extensively among Aboriginal people who still relied on stone tools for their subsistence and cultural practices.
Tindale’s Nakako, Ngadadjara, and Pitjandjara male informants classified their flaked stone tools into seven different types: kandi meru (and adze/flake hafted onto the end of a spearthrower), kandi tjuna (an adze hafted onto a handle), tjimari (a large retouched flake with a resin handle), generic kandi (a small retouched flake with resin handle), kandi minu (an unmodified flake used for subincision), kandi pituru (a pointed flake used by men in secret/sacred blood-letting rituals), and jerabuta (a circumcision knife deriving from the Kimberley region and traded into the Western Desert from northern areas). Grinding stones or pairs of grinding stones were called tjanari and hammerstones were called miri.
Tindale visited a quarry called Pulanj-pulanj in November 1963 with a group of three Nakako men and one Pitjandjara man. The quarry is on the plain west of Mount Davies where white chalcedonic silica outcrops along a dry creek. The stone was created by the ancestral being Minu who detected ring-necked parrot men (Padilka wati) eating food from his country and attacked them with hailstones, which became the white chalcedony. The stone boulders, about 1-2 feet in diameter—were first broken up by throwing the large blocks onto bedrock, with the smaller pieces then reduced by hard-hammer percussion. About 30 boulders were broken up with pieces from about 6 further reduced into many cores. The flintknappers reduced the cores opportunistically, making roughly rectangular flake blanks measuring 10 cm long x 5 cm wide and 10-15 mm thick, with a relatively steep site opposite a sharp edge. The flake blanks were trimmed at the quarry and each man carried away between 12-20 blanks.
The blanks were then retouched into the finished tools using a hammerstone to trim the steep back edge to shape, following by a rolling pressure technique on the opposite edge to remove a series of microflakes and to prepare it for use. The steep back edge was then covered by a coating of spinifex resin to serve as the handle. The knives were coated in red ochre mixed with water and stored in eagle down or under-feathers and bound into a package using human hair string. The stone from Pulanj-pulanj was made into larger knives, but smaller flakes were hafted in the same way, creating kandi. These smaller tools were resharpened by hard hammer percussion, soft hammer percussion using hardwood, rolling pressure using stone or hardwood, or pressure by nibbling with the teeth and spitting out the flakes. Kandi were sometimes hand-held tools but were also hafted onto spear throwers (becoming kandi meru). The working edges of both tjimari and kandi were frequently resharpened by percussion flaking and/or rolling pressure during use.