Summary | Introduction | Method of Analysis | Sample for analysis | Results of the functional analysis | Analysis of the functional results | Statistical analysis of use-wear data | Ethnographic data | Users | Change in edge angles | Relations between the four phases | Discussion

6.4 Results of the functional analysis

The first aim of the functional analysis was to assess whether it was possible to group artefacts on the basis of their use-wear traces. Sixty-two edges were used in the assessment, this being the total number of artefacts with complete records of analysis and ethnographic information. The results are given and compared in the table below. The numbers in brackets are macro-observation results while the non-bracketed numbers are micro-observation results.

Table 3. Use-wear results (Bracketed = macro observations, non bracketed = micro observations)
 cutscrapecut/scrapewhittlegroovechop/adze indeterminatetotal
soft (9)(1)(1)----(11)
soft/medium (5) 4 1 7 1 - - - (5) 13
medium (11) 23 (10) 8 (6) 3 3 3 1 3 (28) 44
medium/hard - (1) - - - - - (1)
hard --------
indeterminate (7) 2 (5) (1) 3 - - - (5) (18) 5
total (32) 29 (17) 9 (8) 13 4 3 1 (5) 3 (62) 62

Results of the 'blind' assessment

The use-wear traces suggest a range of different activities. Table 3 lists hardness of raw materials and suggests possible tool motions.

Plate 2 2
View onto hamlet surrounded by casuarinas, pandanus and garden

If this were an archaeological assemblage these results and other related aspects of the assemblage would be examined in relation to other archaeological information on the 'site' (Plate 2) such as location of raw material sources, the presence of polished stone axes, pollen diagrams, post-holes and hearths, regional environmental assessment and so on. The damp tropical mountain environment would mean that it is unlikely that organic material would survive. What would an archaeologist make of their 'site' and the people who lived there?

  1. The raw material for chert tools was locally available. We can surmise this from the amount of waste, the size of the chert pieces and the abandoned rather than exhausted nature of the cores. Also, as raw material sourcing is regularly done as part of lithic analysis, the raw material sources, which are very local would be found.
  2. The technology is simple. This could be because the raw material lay close by but a correlation between simplified flaked stone technology and polished stone axes is widespread and may, in this case, be connected (e.g. Torrence 1989b).
  3. The results of the use-wear analysis indicates that all tools with recognisable traces appear to have been used on soft/medium (13) or medium (44) materials probably for cutting or scraping. The environment surrounding the 'site' is forested. There are many species of tree and woody plants, such as vines in the immediate vicinity. Woodworking is a likely contender for the large number of tools used on medium materials. The tools with soft-medium traces may have been used on woody plants such as vines. There is no evidence in the high-power analysis for working of soft or hard materials. This would appear to rule out working on animal products, for example cutting meat or fresh hide which are soft materials, and bone or horn which are hard materials. There is no evidence for heavy cutting of wood such as tree clearance. There is no evidence of other uses, such as points used for boring holes, although some of the hafted pieces, which could not be analysed for fear of breaking the hafts, were pointed.
  4. The presence of used tools in association with knapping debris suggests they were made and used in the same place. Evidence of substantial house structures suggests a sedentary lifestyle. No evidence of hunting equipment was found in the stone tool assemblage.
  5. A simple technology in association with polished stone axes, evidence for settlement and small field enclosures suggests a sedentary population practising a Neolithic type economy While pollen analysis would confirm the use of agriculture/horticulture, the post-holes and hearths would suggest dwellings and settlement. While chert raw material is local, the presence of polished axes made of stone from elsewhere suggests an exchange network of some sort.

A picture emerges of a small, settled community who practise agriculture and exploit the raw materials available in their forested environment. A simple lithic technology using local raw materials exists alongside an elaborate polished stone axe technology, which involves trade or movement, as raw material for these axes is not available locally nor is there any evidence for stone axe manufacture. There is no evidence for hunting or aggression, nor any other aspects of the material culture. This is in line with interpretations of archaeological sites in the highlands and suggests a continuity with the past.

Obviously this assessment is simplistic and combines no information gathered from other areas of highland Papua New Guinea. It serves to illustrate though how much information can be gained through archaeology, but also reflects its limitations when compared with the elaborate life and material culture that actually exists in this region.

After this section had been written, the authors came across a similar piece of work, carried out in 1971 following fieldwork among the Tifalman of Irian Jaya (Cranstone 1971). Cranstone noted, as we do, how little evidence would survive of the technology and way of life practised by the Tifalman, even after a short period of abandonment. His discussion of what would remain in the archaeological record includes several additional points.

Cranstone points out that erosion is very severe on the steep mountain flanks where villages are situated; villages, inhabited or abandoned, can be washed away or covered very rapidly when an erosion event takes place. He therefore suggests that many sites would disappear altogether from the archaeological record. The Tifalman moved their villages frequently. This was apparently because they had no formal sanitary arrangements and villages became unhealthy after a while. He makes the point that because villages were moved fairly frequently, there was never an opportunity for large amounts of debris to accumulate, though sites were abandoned and then reoccupied regularly. Post-holes for houses were rarely deeper than one foot (300mm) and poles would always be taken for reuse, unless they were rotten. The most enduring remains, Cranstone believes, would be the stones and burnt clay of the hearth.

Village sites were often reused as gardens, as this reduced the primary garden-clearing work, and also possibly the debris left from the village enriched the soil. In this case, the burning off and clearing of vegetation prior to garden use obscured hearth remains, while post-holes were destroyed or obscured by holes made for planting.

With respect to the artefacts, his conclusions are similar to ours; with only stone surviving he suggests that the axe/adze heads would indicate trade, chert flakes would be found and the presence of stone club-heads might give the false impression of being important weapons. Unworked river pebbles, important to the Tifalman for breaking bones and crushing pigment and nuts, would not necessarily be recognised as tools. The Tifalman spent much more time hunting and gathering than the Wola and food obtained in this way was an important part of the diet. As all their hunting and collecting equipment was made of organic materials, no evidence of this would survive.

He explains that much more information would be available if organic items such as bone, shell and wood survived, though wonders if an archaeologist would suspect that fragments of human skull were imports used in magic.

Cranstone also makes the point that many houses are unoccupied or occupied only for spells at any one time. Additionally, there is a high movement rate among these 'sedentary' people for many reasons, such as long-term visits to relatives or friends, moving to be near distant gardens that had come into production and quarrels which obliged people to move. Finally, there are several different types of house in each village; family houses, men's houses, ancestor cult houses, childbirth houses etc. Cranstone believed that a combination of all these factors would enhance population estimates by between 40–100% above the real figure.

Finally, the wonderful engineering feats of the Tifalman, the widespan bridges they constructed high above rivers, would not be detected at all.


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Last updated: Wed Oct 8 2003