Introductory statement

This paper focuses on the flaked stone tool tradition of the Wola in the context of their material culture, environment and society. Examination of related cultural information provides new insights into the nature of the lithic technological process and allows for an examination of why this particular tradition developed as it did. Rather than studying 'material objects in order to describe and explain human behaviour' (Reid et al. 1975, 846) we look at human behaviour, as well as other aspects such as the environment and archaeological context, in order to understand and explain material objects. This holistic approach to the study of stone tool assemblages should provide a deeper understanding of their role in society, which in turn affords new insights for archaeology.

Binding a chert tool into handle   Shaving down rattan strand

In 1983, while stone tools were still in general use for everyday tasks, the entire flaked lithic sequence employed by the Wola, from raw material collection to manufacture, use and discard was recorded by one of us (PS) as part of his ongoing studies of the Wola. A representative assemblage was collected and accompanied the ethnographic notes. Since this collection was made, the Wola have ceased to use stone for tool making and this assemblage represents one of the last examples of a stone tool assemblage made and used by habitual stone users from highland New Guinea.

The assemblage was to have been studied in Australia but the collaborative arrangements failed and it remained unstudied at the University of Durham for over 10 years. Eventually the other author (KH) began working on a report to highlight its significance from an archaeological perspective. The scope of the task was initially underestimated; the amount of detailed information available for the Wola presented an opportunity to examine not only the ethnographic manufacture and use of stone tools themselves, it also allowed for examination of stone tool use within a much wider context, a context that embraced the complete record of all Wola material culture, together with detailed information on the environment, subsistence, socio-political and family life and the social aspects of tool using.

Throughout this article we use the past tense when referring to the material culture. This has been done for the sake of clarity, though many items remain currently in use. The most notable activity that has ceased since this collection was made in 1983 is the use of chert for flaking stone; the polished stone axe ceased to be used in the 1950s and though string is still made, this is now more commonly done using synthetic materials. Though Wola material culture has changed fast, socio-political and family life and subsistence methods remain relatively unchanged.


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Last updated: Wed Oct 8 2003