This silcrete ‘Yilugwa’ macroblade knife is from southwest Queensland. It was collected during a collaborative research project between archaeologists and Mithaka People to better understand the deep history of the Mithaka.
Artefact on loan to Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology, University New England, catalogue name Brokehimarm Bottom No. 2.
This macroblade was struck from a blade core using a hammerstone. The macroblade propagated under an elongated zone of high mass created by prior parallel blade removals. The macroblade was then trimmed by unifacial retouch around the distal end. The lateral edges were not retouched. The retouched edge is sharp and appears to be unused.
Yilugwa knives are macroblades with a curved edge retouched across the distal end. They resemble tools called ‘end scrapers’ in other parts of the world. The edges are sometimes unifacially retouched as well. Retouching is towards the dorsal surface. In the historical period, yilugwa were hafted with spinifex resin applied to the platform end, and were used by women for cutting and scraping tasks, or as spoons for eating roasted roots and tubers. Their use as spoons was described in 1972: ‘To do this, the implement was gripped at the proximal end, with the thumb pressed on the ventral face. The tuber or root was held in the left hand and split longitudinally using the right lateral and distal edges of the tool. The flesh was then stopped out with a scraping motion toward the operator and eaten from the end of the implement’. ‘Yilugwa’ translates as ‘spoon’ in the Alyawara language. One anthropologist was told that the edges of women’s knives were sometimes blunted by retouch to prevent injuries during use or in fights.
Brokehimarm Cave is located near Moondah Lake at an elevation of around 80 metres. The site complex has a number of silcrete outcrops on the top of the low relief escarpment, but this artefact was found in an extensive scatter approximately 100 metres long and 20 metres wide immediately below the cave. The material looks very similar to the material in the outcrops above the cave site. There are a number of other features in the landscape nearby including a large stone arrangement, possible initiation circles, knapping floors, earth ovens, and potential gunyah (hut) remains.
Blades are elongated flakes that measure at least twice as long as they are wide. In Australia, a blade measuring more than about 40 mm long is referred to as a ‘macroblade’. Macroblades were made by hard-hammer percussion following various strategic methods. The Camooweal Method of macroblade manufacture, practiced in northwestern Queensland, has been described in detail.
Macroblade manufacture emerged in Australia in the Middle Holocene, by about 7000 BP, and proliferated from about 5000 BP. They were made into the recent past. Macroblades are common in stone artefact assemblages across Northern and Central Australia, and large macroblade manufacturing quarries are found throughout the region. They were extensively traded, a practice which continued into the 1990s in the Northern Territory. In the historic period, macroblades were made for use as knives with wood or resin handles, or were hafted as armaments on darts cast with spearthrowers. Some macroblades were exceptionally large, although most encountered by archaeologists measure less than 100 mm long.
Archaeologists often divide macroblade points into unifacial and bifacial variants. Unifacial points are usually retouched towards the dorsal surface to create the distal point and shape the edges, with unifacial or bifacial flaking at the proximal (platform) end to thin and shape it for hafting. Bifacial points are retouched to both faces along both margins. Macroblades were sometimes shaped in certain ways to produce regionally-specific tool types, such as Juan knives in Queensland and Yilugwa knives in Central Australia. Large-sized Pirri Points were sometimes made by pressure flaking on macroblades.
Some archaeologists think that unifacial points turned into bifacial points through resharpening. This may have been true in some cases, but the narrow width of macroblades does not allow for the type of bifacial thinning seen on, for instance, Kimberley Points or Northern Territory Triangular Points. Other bifacial points, such as Wanji Bifaces and some bifacial points in western Queensland, were made on tabular pieces of raw material and not macroblades.