Summary | Wola use of lithics within the wider material context | Conclusions

7.2 Conclusions

Specific ways in which Wola use of stone tools can contribute to archaeological interpretation fall into several categories. Selection for use based on morphology, in particular edge angle, provides clues to the efficient use of flake tools. Correlations between the distribution of polish on the edge of a tool and use suggest that it is the polish distribution on a tool's edge, together with morphology and edge angle that provide most functional information. This is in line with other researchers (Grace 1989; Yamada and Sawada 1993), but does not go as far as those who suggest that different contact materials form different types of polish (e.g. Keeley 1980; Juel Jensen 1994).

With regard to activities such as hunting, the evidence suggests that lack of projectile tips of stone is no guarantee that people did not have projectiles. The people of highland New Guinea cannot have been the only ones to realise that insertion of extraneous bone into an animal/person causes a fairly sudden, nasty death. A new look at bone slivers from archaeological assemblages may reveal that this use of bone is more widespread. In the same vein, the importance of bamboo and its use in making artefacts, suggests that absence of evidence is not always evidence of absence. The total absence of the use of stone in the pig slaughtering and butchering process among the Dani is an example of an important activity, related both to ritual and to subsistence that would leave no archaeological evidence at all on many sites.

The use by women of mainly organic materials means that, in an archaeological context, Wola women would be unlikely to be detected. The wider application of currently marginal techniques such as residue and use-wear analysis could provide new information on the use of organic materials. This should provide a more complete picture of material culture in all sectors of society. Fishing technology, known to have been used in the Late Mesolithic in Denmark, includes several items, such as nets, that required string for their manufacture (Anderson 1995) while Soffer et al. (2000) and Wayland Barber (1994) both provide compelling evidence for the use of string in the Upper Palaeolithic almost 30,000 years ago. This suggests that string-making has been an integral and time-consuming part of life for a very long time.

'An awareness that hidden layers of meaning may lie in even the most apparently straightforward object is important in trying to reconstruct a realistic picture of the past.'

The definitive categorisation of items from archaeological sites could be hiding valuable information, as noted also by Dobres (2000). Artefacts can have many uses, including those that are not necessarily related to what seems to be the 'obvious' one. The reworking of artefacts is well known archaeologically, evidenced by the presence of items such as scraper resharpening flakes or for reshaping projectile points. Dibble (1984; 1987), Flenniken and Wilke (1989), Wickham-Jones (1990), Hampton (1999), Sillitoe (1979a) and Taçon (1991) have all shown that there can be many layers of meaning attached to an object. An awareness that hidden layers of meaning may lie in even the most apparently straightforward object is important in trying to reconstruct a realistic picture of the past.

Possibly the major contribution that Wola use of lithics makes is to reinforce the importance of the unretouched flake, as a vital and integral component of the material culture of which it formed one lowly part, a point also noted by Hampton (1999) in relation to the use of chert tools among the Dani. While the unretouched flake has long been recognised as a tool (e.g. Knutsson et al. 1988), this study has provided evidence that this is so among a living tradition and acknowledges the validity of this archaeological hypothesis.

Finally, the richness of Wola material culture serves as an example of the originality of human groups. It serves also as a reminder that what comes down to us, archaeologists of today, through the clouds of prehistory is but a small part that rarely reflects this originality, or the adaptability, knowledge and creativity of past human beings.


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Last updated: Wed Oct 8 2003