This metasedimentary axe blank is from a large stone quarry near Charters Towers in north-central Queensland dating to the Late Holocene, after 5000 BP. The quarry is on the traditional country of the Gudjal people.
The stone axe blank in this model is from one of the largest Aboriginal quarries in the Charters Towers region, located on a large grazing property originally known as Bletchington Park. The fine-grained metasedimentary stone that outcrops there was reduced into small edge-ground axes that were an important part of regional trade-and-exchange systems. The Bletchington Park reduction process involved sophisticated biface thinning using hard hammer (and possibly soft-hammer) percussion techniques. The reduction was a form of ‘primary thinning’ which involves reducing the width of the biface at about the same rate as the thickness, producing a blank with a relatively thick, lenticular cross section. If the blank was too thick, platforms were established at one or both ends of the blank, and long thinning flakes were struck to remove significant mass from the centre. This is referred to as an ‘end thinning’ bifacial reduction technique, and it appears to be unique in Australia to the Gudjala stoneworkers. This axe blank appears to have been finished but the final edge-grinding step was not completed.
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.