This metabasalt axe is from the Selwyn Range, northwestern Queensland, Australia, and dates to the Late Holocene, after 5000 BP. The stone derived from the Lake Moondarra axe quarry, one of the largest stone axe quarries in Australia. The quarry is on the traditional country of the Kalkadoon people. Stone axes from this quarry were extensively traded, with axes found up to 1000 km from the source.
The axe in this model is typical of ‘utilitarian’ Lake Moondarra axes. They contrast with ‘prestige’ axes by their smaller size and less refined workmanship. Prestige versions of Lake Moondarra axes can be viewed here, here, and here. A heavily reworked utilitarian Lake Moondarra axe can be viewed here. Virtually all of the flaking on the axe in this model was towards the dorsal surface of the flake blank, although the flake blank’s platform was removed by a blow towards the ventral surface. The dorsal surface was thinned and contoured through a mixture of invasive and non-invasive hard-hammer percussion flaking. The cutting edge, ground onto the distal end of the axe blank, extends for over one-third of the blank’s perimeter. In the 1990s, the axe was cut with a rock saw to prepare a microscope slide for a petrographic study (the saw-cut is filled with white material in this model).
See the annotations for technological details about this stone tool.
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.