Summary | Raw material | Raw material procurement | Hammerstones | Nodule reduction and technology | Refrain said when knapping chert | Selection of flakes for use | Locations where men work with chert tools | Use and terminology | Storage and discard | Ritual uses of stone

4.10 Ritual uses of stone

Heider (1970) and Hampton (1999) examine the elaborate and sophisticated ritual use of stone objects among the Dani of Irian Jaya. There are many manufactured stone items that become transformed from profane to sacred, including axe blades, chisels and knives, but the list extends beyond this into other naturally occurring items, such as river pebbles of unusual shape or colour, ammonite fossils, and natural quartz crystals.

Stone as sacred or symbolic is also well known in Australia. One example is provided by Taçon (1991) working in Arnhem Land, Western Australia. Here many stone objects had both sacred and aesthetic value. Natural stone arrangements as well as stone piles and rows were also considered sacred and symbolic.

The Wola also own ancestor or ritual stone objects (hungnaip). These are ancient mortars and pestles, war club heads and other peculiar shaped or coloured stones found in gardens and the rainforest and collected and stored in small houses that they sometimes built specifically to store these objects. Some people believed that their ancestors reside in these objects. Some Wola women also possessed pieces of quartzite that they used in small rites to promote pig growth. Finding a hungnaip stone is a sign that a man will have great success in wealth exchange. The storing of these, possibly very old, stone artefacts, alongside people's contemporary homes and objects should perhaps be remembered as a way in which unusual or culturally inexplicable artefacts sometimes find their way into archaeological material culture assemblages (Sillitoe 1979a).

It is difficult for today's archaeologist, with no link to the material culture they are working with, to identify or appreciate potential 'other' uses for objects, uses that may not be directly obvious, for example a sharp-edged flake might automatically be categorised as a cutting tool. Speculation on alternative uses for objects is pointless with no leads to go on, though documented sacred and ritual uses suggest that the way people viewed stone and stone objects was more complex than archaeologists sometimes allow for. Artefacts may not always necessarily be what they seem; an apparently exhausted piece may well have a different meaning within another use context.


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Last updated: Wed Oct 8 2003