AN ARCHAEOLOGIST dating Kimberley stone tools says the region’s most sophisticated stone technology, known as Kimberley points, appeared just 1,000 years ago.
Australian National University PhD candidate Tim Maloney says these serrated stone points, used for spears, were probably an exclusively Kimberley product.
He says people of the southern Kimberley produced the points using pressure flaking technology: treating edges of stone tools by exerting pressure to remove small flakes.
Mr Moloney says steady population increases in the Kimberley area seem to coincide with the emergence new rock art styles and other technological innovations, including creative use of pressure flaking.
The Kimberley points’ ancestors are direct percussion points, first made in the Kimberley about 5,000 years ago.
Direct percussion points are produced by knapping, or using one stone as a hammer to shape another stone by knocking and chipping it into the shape of a flattened spear point.
Mr Moloney says more complex bi-facial spear points were knapped on both sides, and common from about 3,000 to 1,500 years ago, when spear point technology became increasingly diverse.
“[Around this time] there [was] a whole range of different points being produced and discarded, but I think one of the more exciting things is we’ve been able to provide some more concise dates for Kimberley points,” he says.
Some bi-facial spear points had been further retouched by exerting pressure with a pointed stick, stone or bone to take off small flakes at the edges.
This produced widely serrated edges, with large gaps between serrations.
Mr Moloney says archaeologists found a small number of Kimberley points in three sites in the southern Kimberley, during the current project and on previous excavations.
Researchers dated the points using radiocarbon readings from charcoal found in surrounding soil.
While it is not known how common Kimberley points were, Mr Maloney says they must have been prized possessions.
“The sort of skill required for Kimberley points, I think, is one that really involves several years of apprenticeship,” he says.
“Perhaps only a small group of individuals were even able to produce them.”
He says the elaborate tools that appeared about 1,000 years ago were not necessarily a functional improvement on older points, and required a greater investment in skill and teaching.
“They represent a social response to the [pressure flaking] technology and a very socially valuable item,” he says.
Mr Maloney’s doctoral studies are part of the ARC funded project Lifeways of the First Australians, supervised by UWA Prof Jane Balme and ANU Prof Sue O’Connor. The project is a detailed archaeological study of the central Kimberley.