Internet Archaeol. 14. Hardy and Sillitoe Abstract

E-monograph Series. No. 13

Material Perspectives: Stone Tool Use and Material Culture in Papua New Guinea

Karen Hardy1and Paul Sillitoe2

1School of Historical Studies, University of Newcastle upon Tyne
2Department of Anthropology, University of Durham

Cite this as: Hardy, K. and Sillitoe, P. 2003 Material Perspectives: Stone Tool Use and Material Culture in Papua New Guinea, Internet Archaeology 14.


Flaked stone tools are synonymous with prehistory to the extent that it is arguable that without these, the discipline would not exist. Yet we know relatively little about how people used them and what role they played within the material cultures of which they formed a part. The opportunity to study habitual users of flaked tools in an ethnographic context has always been limited and is now arguably non-existent. But in 1983, despite having steel tools, stone was still used for many of the everyday tasks performed by the Wola, of highland Papua New Guinea. The extensive knowledge of Wola life and material culture has afforded an opportunity to examine stone tool use within a broad material and socio-economic framework. This has provided new levels of contextual information, including the observation of habitual storage of raw material and tools despite abundant local raw material and an expedient technology; their important manufacturing role and the use of tools made from other materials in place of stone for many tasks.

Sharpening bamboo ear-hair pin Shaping bamboo jew's harp Planing wooden axe helve Sharpening palmwood arrow point The start of a woven band to secure a stone axe head into a split socket

Flaked tools also feature in non-material contexts, such as myths, suggesting that their cultural significance is more complex than initial appearances suggest. Women used the bipolar method to obtain flakes, though they were prohibited by convention from using stone axes. Multiple authorship of objects is common though women's work is often hidden in items such as string which is made by women and which forms a constituent part of many male items such as muscial instruments. Use-wear data are recorded and a statistical method developed to further their analysis objectively. Finally, an examination of possible reasons for the simple yet sophisticated nature of chert technology suggests that a combination of material, environmental, social and economic factors may be responsible.

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