Volcanic axe from the Victoria River District in the Northern Territory, dating to the Late Holocene, after 5000 BP. The axe is from the traditional country of the Wardaman people.
This large axe was made from a very large flake blank of volcanic stone. The ventral surface of the flake blank can be seen under the writing on one face. The axe blank was shaped by non-invasive percussion flaking and a short series of step-flaking, followed by grinding to prepare the cutting edge. The lateral margins of the axe were ground also, so remove the sharp edges. The butt of the axe—the former platform surface of the flake blank—was very steeply retouched toward the ventral surface. The sharp edge created by this retouch was removed by step-flaking toward the dorsal surface. The axe was found in a cattle yard while mustering livestock.
The axe is on loan to the Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology teaching collection, University of New England.
The earliest-known edge-ground stone axes in the world are found in archaeological sites in Australia, and are over 40,000 years old. They were made continuously from the earliest occupation of the continent through to the recent past, and are still made in New Guinea today. Stone axes were made in vast numbers during the Middle and Late Holocene period, from about 10,000 years ago, and Aboriginal people developed extensive trade networks for axes made of particularly prized stones. The anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner, writing in 1933 about ceremonial trade on the Daly River of the Northern Territory, said that ‘there can be nothing more useless in the native economy than a pile of [stone axes] with nowhere to send them.’ Axes were also symbolically and ritually important, with story sites for axe quarries and mythological figures wielding stone axes as weapons. For instance, Namarrkon, an Ancestral Being in Arnhem Land in Northern Australia, uses stone axes affixed to his head, elbows, and knees to create the intense lightning in storms that signal the arrival of the monsoon. Axes were integrated within the cultural system in the historic period, and axe manufacture and use was embedded in various social roles. Stone axes in the recent past were usually mounted onto thin wood handles and affixed with plant resin or native bees wax.