This diorite axe is from the northwestern Kimberley region, Australia, dating to the Late Holocene, after 5000 BP. The axe was made by the Wunambal Gaambera people.
The axe is on loan by the Wunambal Gaambera to Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology, University of New England, catalogue no. 27-7 BF 08. It was collected as part of the Change and Continuity project.
This axe was collected from a rockshelter complex called The Temple. Diorite is not local to that area and the axe was transported into the area from many kilometres away. It was made by percussion flaking followed by grinding, possibly from a large slab or flake blank. Although diorite and other igneous materials are often coarse and difficult to flake, they make excellent edge-ground axes. Complete axes are rarely found in the sandstone areas of the Northwest Kimberley although the grooves created in grinding and resharpening them are widespread, suggesting that the tools were highly curated. Although they were often made by men, axes were considered a women’s tool in many parts of the Kimberley. Female figures are sometimes depicted with stone axes in various rock art regions around Australia.
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.