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

4.2 Raw material procurement

Aeray nodules are not overly common but it was usually possible to find one within a space of about ten to fifteen minutes, depending on how far a person had to go to a known deposit or likely source. Nodules occur in stream beds where they are deposited after weathering out of limestone; a stream may also wash out nodules from its banks, exposing them in the soil near the banks. Local people knew of these likely locations. One favourite place near the settlement of Haelaelinja (Fig. 1b), was the bed of a stream called Maip which is about a five minute walk away. The Uwt river is over two hours walk away. The Wola walk everywhere.

Another alternative was to dig in stony soil until a suitable aeray turned up among the aeraytol though the Wola could not distinguish locations where this was more likely to happen. Both aeray and aeraytol occur in dark topsoil (suw bombray lit: soil black) and in bright brown clay subsoil (suw hundbiy - lit: soil khaki/orange). They also occur, but less commonly, in white clay subsoil (suw tongom - lit: soil tongom). Chert does not occur in sizeable deposits nor in strata in the region's limestone parent rock, so there were no quarries.

Plate 102 102 Plate 103 103 Plate 104 104 Plate 105 105 Plate 106 106 Plate 107 107 Plate 108 108
Looking for chert along stream course (102-108)

Finally, certain abandoned garden sites (em obael - lit: garden tree-/cane-grass-regrowth) which were cultivated on 'strong' soils (i.e. physically hard, like clay; Sillitoe 1996) have heaps of chert where women, when preparing the soil for planting, tossed the stones as they found them.

Raw material procurement was undertaken on an ad hoc basis and no definable strategy was apparent. Torrence (1986) laid out a mechanism for understanding procurement, production and exchange of lithics. This was an exchange continuum in which every level of raw material procurement could be found from direct access to raw material sources for direct consumption (production by consumers) to commercial industrialisation. Aboriginal groups from central and western deserts were used as type examples of direct consumption. These people though, needed to visit quarries in order to obtain their raw materials. The Wola had no quarries, and obtained their raw material near their homes, with no planning or organisation, beyond the level of individual requirement. If a man needed some chert, he went and collected it himself or sent someone, often a child, to collect some for him. Men also sometimes collected pieces of raw material from streambeds on their way home. Often nodules were knapped directly and immediately at source, and the necessary flakes removed. No particular preference was shown for any of the various places where raw material could be obtained.

Everyone had free access to nodules, not only in their own neighbourhoods, but also in the neighbourhoods of other communities. Aeray nodules were sufficiently common for no one to have thought of restricting access to them, indeed the Wola considered such an idea ridiculous; aeray had no transactable value.

In other areas of Highland New Guinea, where outcrops do occur, people used quarries in preference to other sources. Among the Duna, for example whose territory lies to the north-west of the Wola, this was so even though they were aware of the presence of nodules in streambeds, stony soil and abandoned gardens (White and Modjeska 1978). The only Duna interviewed who did not use quarries were those who had no connections with people in areas where quarries were located. White et al. (1977) accompanied some people on a raw material collecting trip to a riverbed. The river was about half a mile away from the village and he reckoned that to collect enough raw material to carry out one major task (making a bow) took about two hours including locating nodules, testing and selecting.

White and Modjeska (1978) noted that among the Duna, flaked stone tools were of so little value to the users that as soon as they had acquired steel it was difficult to persuade anyone to discuss or demonstrate their manufacture and use. This contrasts with other parts of the world where it is often possible archaeologically to identify more than mere function in an artefact. Selective use of a rare or good quality raw material to make a particular, and special artefact type can be interpreted as aesthetic preference or for status, especially when no improvement in the functional quality of the artefact is evident; for example in the use of Matadamas chert for making projectile points in the Oaxaca valley in Mexico, the source of which is located around 50km away (Hole 1986).

In the Eastern Highlands Province quarries existed though raw material could also be found in gardens and stream beds (Watson 1995). Here, social constraints, not encountered among the Wola or the Duna existed. Quarries were owned as were sections of watercourses and this ownership restricted access to raw material sources. Additionally, the nearer people were to available raw material sources, the more demanding they were in terms of quality control.

In the Dani region of Irian Jaya (Hampton 1999), chert nodules were not common. Dani people had to make do with small nodules, some of which were available locally but for which they sometimes traded. The Dani had an elaborate array of ground stone tools, including knives. Many of the tasks that were undertaken with flaked stone tools by the Wola, were done using ground stone tools among the Dani. The raw material available to the Dani was different to that available to the Wola; they had ready access to good quality grinding stone and not a lot of chert. The different ways their tool kits have developed seems to reflect this.

From an archaeological viewpoint, the fact that two groups, living in a similar environment and with similar subsistence strategies, have developed a different tool kit using locally available raw materials, rather than obtain better or easier alternatives through trade, even though that trade existed (for polished stone axes), is an interesting point with clear archaeological significance.


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Last updated: Wed Oct 8 2003