This quartzite waisted axe is from Kangaroo Island, Australia, and possibly dates to the Early or Middle Holocene, ca. 7000-14,000 BP. The notches manufactured into the tool’s edge created a distinctive ‘waist’, presumably as an aid to hafting the tool with a vine or split-wood wrap-around handle.
Many large stone tools—including waisted axes like this one—were collected from Kangaroo Island and elsewhere in the 1930s, leading early researchers to propose they were evidence of a distinctive Pleistocene toolmaking tradition, called the Kartan Industry (‘Karta’ is the Ngarrindjeri name for Kangaroo Island). Archaeological work on Kangaroo Island in the 1970s-80s reiterated the speculation of a Pleistocene age for the Kartan Industry, but later research showed that the characteristic artefacts date to the Early or Middle Holocene. This very large axe was manufactured from coarse-grained quartzite by percussion flaking. The edge was produced by flaking and was not edge-ground, as is often the case with waisted axes.
The axe is curated in the University of New England Museum of Antiquities.
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.