Use-wear analysis of Aboriginal flaked stone, glass and porcelain from Calperum Station, South Australia

Author: Simon Munt

Munt, Simon, 2022 Use-wear analysis of Aboriginal flaked stone, glass and porcelain from Calperum Station, South Australia, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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For around 65,000 years Aboriginal Australians adjusted their stone technological practices according to changing socio-cultural and environmental conditions. Innovations assisted them to thrive in unfamiliar territories and during periods of climatic fluctuations. Technological adaptations did not cease following permanent European colonisation over 200 years ago, with Aboriginal groups across the country selectively incorporating introduced materials. In the Riverland of South Australia (SA), intense, often violent, complex cross-cultural encounters began in the mid-late 1830s yet until recently few archaeological investigations had been undertaken for this vast region. Consequently, it has been relatively unknown how Aboriginal peoples in the Riverland may have adapted their technological practices to include uses for new European materials.

My thesis addresses this gap in knowledge, with the application of two key methods: (1) microscopic use-wear analysis of tools made from stone and introduced glass and porcelain from two sites at Calperum Station in the Riverland; and (2) documentation of oral histories and current practices of the Aboriginal Traditional Owners (TOs). A main objective is to understand how and why Aboriginal people around Calperum Station incorporated introduced glass and porcelain into their culture/lifeways following permanent European colonisation. This thesis represents the first use-wear study in Australia concerning Aboriginal uses of porcelain and the first in SA that considers all aspects of use-wear on bottle glass used by Aboriginal peoples.

Traditional knowledge forms a key component of this thesis. Use-wear analyses have not always incorporated such knowledge, and living cultural memories and inferences from TOs around Calperum Station, based on knowledge passed on to them from previous generations, add insights into past uses for introduced materials that were beyond detection under microscopic investigations. This includes manufacturing and using glass tools to process wood and meat, and glass (and chert) tools for spear tips.

Use-wear experiments that approximate archaeological conditions at Calperum Station are another key aspect of this thesis. The primary goals of use-wear analysis are to determine the motion(s) with which a tool was used and the material(s) that were processed. To aid the interpretation of the archaeological assemblage, 106 tool-use experiments were conducted and the use-wear analysed. Tool raw materials closely matched the chert, silcrete, bottle glass and porcelain from the archaeological assemblage, and a range of tool motions was implemented, informed partly by TO knowledge of their antecedents’ tool-use techniques. Materials were processed that, according to both the literature and TO knowledge, were historically available in the region: wood (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), bone (kangaroo), meat (lamb), fresh hide (cow) and plant material (Typha domingensis).

The archaeological specimens analysed (n = 62) included 29 stone (16 chert and 13 silcrete), 25 glass and eight porcelain flakes and fragments. Of these, eight were tools with diagnostic traces of use, seven had probable traces of use, and 18 had possible traces of use. No formal tool types were identified. Of the eight tools with diagnostic traces of use, four were manufactured from glass, one from porcelain and three from chert. Evidence was compelling that the four glass tools had been used to scrape bone. For the porcelain and chert tools, evidence for the material(s) worked was inconclusive. A key finding of this thesis, supported by Aboriginal oral histories and current practices, is that production and use of glass tools replaced stone for some tasks and has been maintained from initial or early contact up to the present day.

The introduced materials appear to have been incorporated into pre-existing technological frameworks. Although motives for past behaviour may not always be discernable, the locations of both sites suggests that Aboriginal peoples may have chosen to use the new materials in a space removed from the colonial gaze. Regardless, the Riverland can now be understood as a region where, at these two sites and possibly others, Aboriginal peoples, by adapting their technological practices, mirrored the cultural dynamism that has characterised Aboriginal cultures in Australia for many millennia.

Keywords: use-wear analysis, microwear analysis, traceology, Calperum Station, Australian Aboriginal technology, stone artefacts, glass artefacts, porcelain artefacts

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Amy Roberts