This igneous axe from Australia dates to the Late Holocene, after 5000 BP. The axe is likely from the corner region of northwestern New South Wales or southwestern Queensland, but the precise provenance is unknown. The axe is in the Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology teaching collection, University of New England.
The axe was shaped from diorite by pecking. The peck-marks are small, indicating great care was taken in its manufacture. The hammerstone used for pecking was probably relatively small . A very shallow groove was pecked around the axe at the proximal end for affixing a wrap-around handle. The faces and edges of the axe were lightly abraded, and the cutting edge was made by expert grinding. Striations on the cutting edge indicate that the final sharpening was done by grinding parallel to the cutting edge, rather than at right-angles to it. The faces are highly polished. The grinding facet at the cutting edge on one face is oriented at a steeper angle than the grinding facets located farther back, indicating that the axe was resharpened, most likely multiple times.
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.
The stone axe in this model was collected by Albert (‘Bert’) G. Muller (1902-1980), probably in the 1930s. Muller worked as a stockman in the Northern Territory in the 1920s, demonstrating a particularly talent at handling camels. In 1922 Muller was the first to ride a motor bike to Stuarts Creek in the Northern Territory. He once became lost in the desert during this period and was saved by a group of Aboriginal people who looked after him for several weeks. This was followed by a stint working in wool stores in Adelaide during the Depression. Muller became a property manager at Yantara Station near Tibooburra, New South Wales, in 1931-1932, then Naryilco Station in Queensland from 1932-1937. He then became the temporary manager at Hamilton Downs, near Alice Springs before moving to Broken Hill and operating a saddlery from 1939 until his retirement in 1975. His daughter recalls Aboriginal stockmen from Tibooburra visiting him at his saddlery in the 1970s and yarning away the afternoons.