Tag Archives: Stone artefacts

Koonalda Cave and Archaeology at the South Australian Museum.

By Sam Hedditch- Graduate Diploma of Archaeology student.

This is the third of my four blog posts for the Flinders Cultural Heritage Practicum I am completing at the South Australian Museum stores at Hindmarsh. I am currently left with three weeks of my placement before my hours have been completed and I am a little sad because I am sure I will miss the people and the artefacts I have been lucky enough to work with.

The past few weeks have taken another exciting turn in my placement at the Museum. John Hodges very kindly included me on the work on the Koonalda Cave material from the Alexander Gallus/Richard Wright excavations. We were going through one of Gallus’ trenches to find evidence of organic materials for dating purposes within boxes that related to particular site layers. A range of organic materials (e.g. bone and shell) can now return reliable radiocarbon dates whereas previously dating was largely conducted on charcoal.  We were also able to find stone tools that had ‘cementation’ of sand, dirt and limestone, as this information is part of a development in dating between geochemistry and archaeology.

Figure 1- One of the illustrations of a Flint nodule from the Koonalda Cave. (Courtesy of South Australian Museum)

Researchers at the South Australian Museum hope to submit three small specimens from this collection from various layers in the trench to give some good preliminary dates in order to back a research grant for a more wide-scale dating program.  This whole process was unfamiliar to me and the fact that many grant applications are being submitted illustrated that the best possible proposal must be put forward in order to receive the grant.

We ultimately found a range of interesting items that were suitable for C14 dating. Interestingly, we also found some small bones, possibly from a masked owl (now extinct in the Nullarbor region), that are shaped like a bone point. There was also a flint stone flake that had charcoal, bone and a cementation of limestone as its cortex, that would also be a very useful artefact for the dating program.  There were also some fascinating stone flakes and what John and I thought were small picks and axes used by people in the caves to quarry the stone.

Figure 2- A dumpy level survey map of the Koonalda Cave. There are many different maps that help piece together the site and its separate excavation seasons.(Courtesy of South Australian Museum)

However, the primary goal as stated above was to find these three samples and be able to link them to various site layers in the notes and maps associated with the excavation. Dr Walshe had a number of large scale maps laid out on the work floor which had been compiled throughout the many seasons by museum staff and speleologists working in the excavations.  The maps were useful in correlating all of the artefacts and the context in which they were collected.

Another critical piece of evidence were the notebooks of Gallus that described the material and layers within the trench that we were sorting. Gallus’ method of recording was certainly not the easiest to follow in terms of handwriting and following a logical order re: page numbers and nomenclature etc, so we had some difficulties reconciling all of the data and finding three suitable samples.

Figure 3- A page from Gallus' notebook. This is why it is important to write clear notes! (Courtesy of the South Australian Museum)

After much time and toil, our samples were found and we are in the process of having them dated. It is again a terrific experience for me and a great opportunity to be a part of this research. It demonstrated that, due to the difficulties associated with obtaining permission to dig old sites like caves or dig new ones, there are available and complete research designs that can be implemented on old collections held in museums. Even the notes and the story of the Koonalda Cave could produce its own archaeological narrative with the right interest, care and dedication.

Figure 4- A profile drawn by Gallus of one of the excavation sites. This was vital information to link layer numbers on the artefacts in the boxes to the notes and the profile sketches. (Courtesy South Australian Museum)

Needless to say, museums are not at all boring places and the excitement at the Hindmarsh store is palpable.  Better yet, I have three more weeks to further my own archaeological interests and work and to learn from some really humble, dedicated and inspiring professionals

Til next time!

Making Sense of the Winchelsea Stone Artefact Collection- Post 2

By Sam Hedditch – Graduate Diploma of Archaeology student.

I will briefly summarise some of the key achievements I have completed:

  • Understood the basics of lithic analysis and compared my results with that of another student’s on the collection to verify my methodology.
  • Completed a range of background reading into the areas associated with these tool finds to help discover their broader archaeological context.
  • Read a number of books and journal articles about Australian stone artefacts to familiarise myself with the tool types that are occurring in the collection.
  • Completed around half of the artefact analysis with the further completion, photography and illustrations remaining.

Although it is too early to generalise about the collection, it appears that the collector was informed of various tool types and raw materials, and hence would have probably been an enthusiast or amateur collector. Many of the tools have retouch, which is not the only type of attribute exhibited on stone tools , but was sort after from collectors and those looking for ‘typical’ members of the Australian Stone Tool Collection.

The journal named ‘The Artefact’, which is the journal of the Archaeological and Anthropological Society of Victoria, does refer to some trips to the regions where the tools come from including: Coongie Lake and Mt Gambier, though it is unclear whether a member or a publishing Archaeologist/Anthropologist was involved in the Winchelsea collection.

The author using a lamp with magnification to assess a stone tool. The magnification can reveal tiny traces of use wear and residues.

As far as the artefact analysis goes, it is very time consuming and must be completed with consistency and great care. Attributes such as raw material of the tool, margins with retouch, tool type and weight are all part of the recording process. The attributes being recorded are a general set of attributes suited to a random collection like this. Further information on lithic analysis can be gained from Lithics: Macroscopic approaches to analysis by William Andrefskey Jnr (2005, Cambridge University Press).

One of the biggest challenges I have found is how to deal with analysing an artefact that is not a complete tool. This is the case more often than not with this collection. As is the case with many surface collections, the tools remaining are often discarded objects from previous users. When analysing, not having a platform or a distal margin intact will remove vital pieces from the story of the tool and leaves many attributes indeterminate.

However, this is all part of the process of learning and recording. I hope to gain more insight into the collector after reading more primary sources and archeological backgrounds to the areas where the tools are from. Until then I must keep measuring and recording!

The author using a set of digital calipers to measure dimensions on a stone tool.

Making sense of the Winchelsea Stone Artefact Collection-Blog Post Four

By Sam Hedditch- Graduate Diploma of Archaeology student.

I have come to the end of my time with the Winchelsea stone tool collection and I am a little sad to part with it. I have discovered so much about the differences between the tools and raw materials, their uses (of which there are many) and of the history of their collection and research.

The final activities I performed on the collection were taking a complete set of photos for all of the artefacts and some illustrations for a select few. The illustrations were quite tricky in order to get the dimensions and features on the artefacts correct, and it is better to put in less detail than more sometimes (Mumford 1983). The important thing is to be aware of how to display retouch and its direction and to understand that when a jagged line is drawn mistakenly, it may be interpreted as use wear by a reader.

As for the tools, I am unsure of whether they will make it back to where they were taken from because the collector and any records of their collection are gone. I can say that they have being an amazing educational vehicle and have demonstrated to me how adaptable and technological Aboriginal culture is, just through this one aspect. I feel quite confident in identifying stone artefacts in the field in future and would recommend studying stone artefacts for anyone that would like to do the same!

One of the largest bags in the collection, the Coober Pedy Blades.

Mumford, W. 1983 Stone Artefacts: An Illustrator’s Primer. In Graham Connah (ed.),  Australian Field Archaeology: A Guide to Techniques.  Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Press.