Appendix 1 - The Assemblage

Nodule A | Nodule B | Nodule C | Technology | Pieces selected for use | Tool use | Specimens bought or given

In 1983 one of us (Sillitoe) was asked, during the course of his studies among the Wola, to observe and record the manufacture and use of an assemblage of flaked stone tools. At that time, chert was still a widely used raw material, although steel tools had replaced many stone ones. Since the 1980s, metal tools (e.g. steel knives and razor blades) have largely replaced chert, which is now rarely used as a raw material.

The resulting assemblage, discussed here, probably represents one of the last examples of a stone tool assemblage made and used by habitual stone users from the Papuan highlands. It is part of the flaked stone tool tradition found throughout the highland region in the ethnographic present and recent past. These tools featured in a considerable number of tasks before contact and continue to do so today.

There are three factors which make this assemblage particularly valuable:

The flake tool assemblage examined here comprises two separate entities. Firstly, there are three nodules and all the flakes and waste material from them. These nodules were knapped and flakes from them used following a request by the ethnographer. Men were asked to make and use tools as they saw fit and as they did habitually. For this reason, there is no consistency in the types of tasks undertaken by different people. One hundred and seven flakes, were knapped and observed in use, their manufacture and use recorded. In addition all waste material was also collected. One hundred and twenty additional flakes were collected separately, many dug up by local people, from caches of flakes which had sometimes been used by men long dead. Many of these tools would have come from a time before the introduction of steel and represent tools made and used 'naturally', that is not as part of the main assemblage which was made 'to order'.

The three nodules and their associated flakes were all made from light-coloured aeray chert, the standard, average quality local raw material. No pieces were retouched; this corresponds with other ethnographic records of stone tool technology from highland New Guinea. Flakes and cores are unstandardised in shape, again in keeping with the ethnographic record of the region.

Nodule A

Images: Nodule A | Tool 6A | Tool 18A | Tool 47A | Tool 45A | Tool 20A | Tool 23A | Tool 48A | Tool 61A | Tool 54A | Tool 58A | Tool 57A

It took Maenget Pes 24 minutes to knap the entire nodule. He was left with a core, and 860 flakes. He started by knapping the chert nodule resting on the ground (on clay soil). When it was smaller, he held it in one hand while knapping it. He used a huwbiyp basalt stone as a hammer.

Dimensions102 x 90 x 72mm
Number of removals860
Used flakes43
Unused and waste flakes810
 large (>40mm long): 10
 medium (25–40mm long): 41
 small (15–25mm long): 59
 very small (<15mm): 700

Nodule B

Images: Nodule B | Tool 107B | Tool 163B | Tool 152B | Tool 160B | Tool 128B | Tool 165B | Tool 137B | Tool 119B | Tool 143B | Tool 145B | Tool 100B

Maenget Pes knapped for 14 minutes using a huwbiyp basalt stone as a hammer.

Dimensions89 x 77 x 63mm
Number of removals245
Used flakes59
Unused and waste flakes186
 large (>40mm long): 9
 medium (25–40mm long): 13
 small (15–25mm long): 34
 very small (<15mm long): 130

Nodule C

Nodule C nodule was not all knapped in one go. Mayka Sal spent 28 seconds knapping off two tool flakes. Ind Kuwliy spent 2 minutes and 30 seconds knapping three tool flakes.

Images: Nodule C | Tool 170C | Tool 171C | Tool 174C

Dimensions112 x 105 x 88mm
Number of flakes removed5


All three cores are multiplatformed. None of them are exhausted. Nodule A has no remaining cortex while nodule B has a small area of cortex remaining and nodule C retains approximately 30% of its surface as cortical. There is no evidence of core preparation prior to working. On both nodules A and B, a flake was removed to produce a flat surface which was then used repeatedly as a striking platform with 50–75% of this edge used on both nodules. Nodule B has eight final removals and nodule A has five taken from this platform. This has resulted in both cores becoming elongated. The elongated effect is not evident on nodule C which has only had a few removals.

The flakes have large plain or cortical platforms. The evidence for flaking technique is ample. It shows strongly developed bulbs, conchoidal fracture marks and frequently cones of percussion, as would be expected following use of direct percussion by a hard hammer. There are many pieces without platforms and bulbs. These pieces are chips that have been produced as an indirect product of the reduction technique, as a knock-on result of heavy blows with hard hammers.

Pieces selected for use

See terminology

The selection of flakes for use did not follow an ordered pattern. Pieces were selected at any point throughout the working process. The only criterion for selection was suitability for the proposed tasks. Thus a combination of totally cortical flakes, semi-cortical flakes and non-cortical flakes were selected, as were many small and irregularly shaped flakes. The only factor they all had in common was a usable edge, as defined by the users.

The used edge is not always one that would be instantly recognisable by an archaeologist. Artefacts that were used for heavy scraping (recognisable by the staining on them and not included in the functional analysis because their large size prevented them from being examined under a microscope), often have short very wide-angled edges, but are never retouched.

The percentage of used to unused pieces differs between nodules. Twenty-eight per cent of flakes over 15mm from nodule A and 51% of flakes from nodule B were used. Nodule A, which was knapped for 24 minutes, produced a low proportion of flakes selected for use and a large amount of waste material, while nodule B produced a higher proportion of used flakes and less waste material in a much shorter time.

Tool use

Below is a list of twenty-two tasks which represent those undertaken with the tools from this assemblage. Users were not given tasks to do, rather they were left to go about their work and do habitual tasks.

Specimens bought or given (manufacture and use not observed)

These include:
One chert tool purchased from Wenja Olnay.
Eighteen aeray blades unearthed by Mayka Sal.
Fourteen flakes found by Mayka Sal.
Eight flakes found by Mayka Sal [also see 204-206].
Five flakes found by Mayka Sal.
Three cores found by Mayka Sal.
Eleven flakes used by Wenja Puwn.
Seven flakes found by Mayka Naenainj.
Five flakes dug up by Mayka Sal.
Three blades found by Sal.
Thirteen flakes found by Mayka Sal.
Two flakes found by Maenget Hiyp.
Four flakes found by Mayka Sal.
Eight flakes found by Wenja Muwiy.
Eight flakes found by Wenja Muwiy.
Five flakes found by Wenja Muwiy.
Six flakes found by Wenja Muwiy.


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Last updated: Wed Oct 8 2003