Spear-head of green bottle-glass. [El.B 31/1/2007]

Place details: AUSTRALIA. Australia / Western Australia Derby District. Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Glass / ?. Processes: Recycled / Flaked / ?. Dimensions: Max L = 62 mm Field Collector: Mr and Mrs Faulkner When Collected: By 1932 PRM Source: Finlay Sanderson Acquired: Donated August 1932

KEYWORD: Spear-head / CLASS: Weapon / ?.

Publications history, trails & websites: This object features in the Museum's audio guide produced during the DCF-funded 'Cutting Edge’ project, 2007-2009. [HH 20/06/2010]

Research notes: The following notes are drawn from research compiled by Andy Mills as part of the DCF Cutting Edge project in 2006-2007.

These glass points, apart from being fine evidence of the confluence of two different technological traditions, the Australian Aboriginal and the European, are excellent examples of the kind of pressure-flaked points produced in the northern Kimberley and Arnhem Land areas of Western Australia for more than 3,000 years (Flood, J. (1995) Archaeology of the Dreamtime. London: Angus & Robertson, p. 99). These bifacial points, with a high degree of symmetry, were regarded as finely worked by many Aboriginal groups throughout Northern and Western Australia, and were traded more than 1,000km south, where they were used by some groups in the Central Desert as circumcision knives (Flood 1995, p. 223).

Their distinctive character and high quality emerges from the technique of manufacture, rather than the imported materials; examples in both bottle glass and porcelain (from the insulators of cross-country telegraph and telephone cabling) can be seen in museum collections, although traditionally the appropriate material was quartzite, or less frequently, basalt (Glauert, L. (1916) Western Australian Stone Implements. Man, 16, pp. 73-4; Elkin, A.P. (1948) Pressure Flaking in the Northern Kimberley, Australia. Man, 48, pp. 110-13). The manufacture of points such as this required hours of work, as Balfour (Balfour, H. (1903) On the Method Employed by the Natives of N.W. Australia in the Manufacture of Glass Spear-Heads. Man, 3, p. 65) and Elkin (1948) discuss. Generally, the rough blank of the blade is produced by the normal method of knapping, applying a hard rounded hammer stone (usually some kind of river pebble) to the large core of quartzite (or whatever material is being worked). Once reduced to approximate size and shape, the edge is then worked. The serrated edge, which undulates in both the vertical and circumferential dimensions, is the distinctive characteristic of these points, and localised to the area discussed. It is produced by pressure flaking, the technique of applying a soft tool, termed a pressure flaking stick, such as a pointed stick or a shaped piece of animal bone, at a very slightly oblique angle to the flat of the blade, at even spacings along the edge. This produces small flakes running back from the edge of the blade, and several small, sharp-edged valleys. The blade is then turned over in the hand, and the same process repeated on the other side, in the spaces between these valleys – which creates the undulating edge.

These heads were fixed to their light wooden shafts with black Spinifex gum. The shafts in turn are finished by a short and light section of bamboo, into which the peg of the spear-thrower fitted. [El.B 17/03/2008]