stone axe restoration
An ancient aboriginal stone axe is restored to working condition using traditional methods
by aYidinji elderNote: contains images and the name of the now deceased elder - images are used with his permission
Click on small images for larger images
1.Step by step - How to
restore an ancient stone
to functional condition
traditional methods and materials
Geoarchaeology - A
approach to functional analysis
how we used rock type, edge angles and
scratch marks to figure out
uses and origins of each of the
5. Each tool tells its story + the wisdom of the elder where our scientific analysis was wrong and corrected by first hand knowledge
An "axehead" is a general name for a large stone tool
Axeheads were an essential economic resource to the Aboriginal people of 150 years ago, just as copper or iron or gold are today.
Axeheads are highly specialised and require a sophisticated knowledge of geology, physics and chemistry in their production as this website will show.
The higher the level of craftsmanship / specialisation, the more useful and more highly regarded they are.
Axeheads also provide an opportunity for trade and interaction with other groups of people.
Yidinji Elder Nungbana (George Davis) shows...
Step by step - How to restore a stone axehead to functional condition using traditional materialsClick on any image for a larger version
Girls were given permission by Nungbana to watch and participate in this process.
Splitting Lawyer Cane (Calamus spp. ) to make the handle and wrapping for the stone axe.
The short,thick length of Lawyer Cane for the handle is slightly green and will shrink slightly when dry.
The thin, long wrapping is mature but greener and will shrink considerably as it gets drier.
The shrinkage will tighten the grip of the handle on the stone axe.
Warming split cane to make it pliable
Smoothing interior surface of cane handle to maximise contact area with stone axehead
Resin (dried sap) from the Grass Tree ( Xanthorrhoea spp. ) used as part of a two part glue
The Grass Tree is found in drier open, often sloping country that experiences periodic fires.
Although not specifically a plant for fibre it was very useful in crafting of aboriginal tools. The light straight flower stalk served as a butt-piece for spears.
A tip section of tea tree would then be attached to the end of the spear and hardened in the fire before used for hunting. fire with a drilling stick.
The leaves produce a hard waterproof resin, which could be collected from the base of the trunk.
This resin melts when wanned, but sets hard when cold. It had a number of uses including;
- Forming glue by mixing it with charcoal, beeswax or fine sand and dust.
- Gluing the cement stone heads to wooden handles and spears to shafts and tips.
- Waterproofing bark canoes and water carrying vessels.
Making the two part glue
Part 1 - Grass Tree resin is powdered and and mixed into a thick paste with warm water
Part 2 - buried charcoal (activated carbon) from a root fire of the Kauri Pine is powdered and added to the resin
The Kauri Pine (Agathis spp.) is an emergent rainforest tree, found on level ground with deep soil and is liable to be struck by lightning.
Presumably, the activated carbon draws metallic ions from the resin causing it to thicken and solidify.
The rate of this reaction is increased by pre-heating the stone axes.( see Image 09...)
Once dry, the glue will not remelt.
Stone axeheads are pre-heated before the addition of the glue.
The hot stone assists in getting the glue to flow into all crevices and keeps the cane pliable while it is fitted to the axe.
Spreading the glue on the inside of the axe handle.
Note the two part contact glue is spread on both the stone axe and the handle surfaces.
Glue on axehead is left to cool until very sticky.
The main handle is shaped to accept the axehead.
The glued halves of the base of the main handle are glued together and clamped.
Axehead is inserted and clamped.
A two person operation.
Multi-step adjusting and tight fitting of axehead.
Handle is wrapped and glued inside and out.
Critical to the wrapping are the special knots to hold tie off and hold the wrapping in place.
Completed axe will take some time to dry and for the green Lawyer Cane to dry and shrink.
This must take place before first use.
Completed Axes - side view with scale
Completed axes edge on view
Note how straight cutting edge of axe lines up perfectly with line of axe handle.
Note how glue makes perfectly seamless seal.
or how we used rock type,
edge angles and scratch marks to figure out
the uses and origins of each of the stone tools
- Using false colour image processing to highlight worked areas of stone and scratch mark patterns
- using scratch mark patterns to determine degree of use, nature and direction of motion
- using edge angles to determine hardness and nature of material cut
- the metamorphic rocks that comprise axeheads 1,2,3 and 4 have unique properties
How did axehead number 4 travel the 1000km from the Kalkadoon area near Mt. Isa to Herberton? We assumed that travel took place in early to mid-winter June-July)for the following reasons:
- still some water flow in rivers,
- rivers around the Gulf would be avoided because of the need to swim, brackish water difficult swampy terrain and large crocodiles
- some shade most leaves yet to drop
- game starting to concentrate aroud drainage basins as outlying terrain begins to dry)
- it would then be possible to follow major drainages with all crossings between watersheds at daily travel distances of less than 30km
- One route through the middle of the Gregory Range following the Gilbert River
- and another southerly route, crossing the Great Dividing Range and following the coastal rivers south and skirting the southern end of the Gregory Range
- it is interesting to note that both routes follow a common path for only a short distance but that the two points where they meet are the sites of present day aboriginal communities
- although the axeheads were collected in June-July they were probably not traded until just before the wet season when people would naturally gather around the few remaining water holes and would therefore be easier to find
- the Kalkadoon axehead from the Mt. Isa area would probably be traded for particular rainforest timbers with unique properties , rainforest coloured feathers in shades and textures not found in the drier interior and seashells which were in turn traded up from the coast
Environmental Reasoning on the Exposure of the Axeheads
The reasons why these axeheads
were able to be found in the first
place , and why more axeheads are being found now, is mainly concerned
with changes in the environment. By looking at environment when the
axeheads were made and comparing that to the present environment, we
can produce reasoning as to why they were exposed.
It is important to realise that when the Aboriginal people mioved to a different place to live, that they usually moved in cycles. That is , they will start at one spot , move to a few others as the cycle of life and food supply progresses, but at some later stage will most likely return to the oroginal spot and so on. Because of this , they leave certain things such as axeheads specificially designed for a particular food supply behind, so that they may be used again when they return to the same spot.
This saves them carrying heavy items from place to place. Acommon place to leave axeheads so that they can be foriun again may be along rivers, near a favourite campsite or a distinguishing tree or feature. Following European occupation of the bush, Aboriginals were deterred from living in the bush, a lot of their axeheads have been left behind. The main reason why these tools are being found now is recent degradation of the land.
In the past:
- the land had a heavy plant cover
- runoff was slow ad over a long period of time
- soils were held inplace by roots
- has been repeatedly logged for building materials
- has been repeatedly burnt either by accident or on purpose
- has had its drainage systems and stream banks altered by tin mining
- has had extensive clearing and numerous roads bulldozed for tin mining
- has had land cleared for farming often right up to the river banks
- the result has been massive soil erosion in drainage basins
- the result has been massive, rapid, short lived runoff and the rapid erosion of stream banks
Triangular marks found on stone tools are often the result of plow or bulldozer impacts.