Rare bone tool artefact revealed

Analysis of a crafted bone point unearthed on Ngarrindjeri country in South Australia is shedding new light on the behaviour and tool use of First Nations Australians, according to a new paper published in the journal Australian Archaeology.

(a) The Murrawong bone point; (b) superior view; (c) inferior view; and (d) distal edge featuring use-related damage. Credit: Flinders University

The point was crafted out of kangaroo or wallaby bone, and later discarded or lost in the sediment for thousands of years until it was painstakingly excavated in 2008 by Dr Chris Wilson – a Ngarrindjeri archaeologist from Flinders University – and his team.

The paper’s authors, from Flinders and Griffith universities, believe the point – which was radiocarbon dated to between 5300 and 3800 years old – was likely used to pierce soft materials, like cloaks made of possum fur, or was perhaps hafted onto a projectile for use in hunting.

The find is particularly unusual because Australia’s archaeology is dominated by stone tools and shell middens found on the surface, rather than vulnerable bones buried deep in the ground.

“Even one find of this kind provides us with opportunities to understand the use of bone technologies in the region and how such artefacts were adapted to a riverine environment,” says Wilson.

Christopher wilson
The excavation at Murrawong. Credit: Flinders University.

Despite the underrepresentation of bone tools in Australian archaeology, there is a rich and deep record of their use by First Nations peoples. The oldest known bone artefact in Australia is a stunning 46,000 years old, found at Carpenters Gap in Western Australia, while ethnographic accounts from Yaraldi/Ngarrindjeri descendants in South Australia point to bone tool use just a few generations ago.

The new research is part of a broad, ongoing project headed up by Wilson – with the support of the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation – that seeks to uncover the rich archaeology of Ngarrindjeri lands.

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