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.
This metabasalt axe is the second of two large axes discovered by archaeologists cached together in a rockshelter in the Selwyn Range. Axes at Lake Moondarra were made on very large, thick flake blanks measuring up to 25 cm long. These were struck at the quarry from enormous boulder cores, often measuring larger than 1.5 metres in largest dimension. Flake blanks were sorted and trimmed at the outcrop and carried to areas around the quarry for flaking into blanks. This was apparently accomplished by hard-hammer percussion, but the nature of flake scars on some examples suggest soft-hammer percussion may have sometimes been used. Most reduction was towards the dorsal side of the flake blank and the original ventral surface is often preserved on one face. Lake Moondarra axes were disk-shaped, which makes them stylistically unusual. An edge was ground on part of the periphery, usually at the distal end of the original flake blank. The exceptionally large size and skilled workmanship of the axe in this model suggests it was a ‘prestige axe’ made for trade. 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).
The axe is part of the Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology teaching collection, University of New England.
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.