Community specialisation, standardisation and exchange in a hunter-gatherer society: a case study from Kalkadoon country, northwest Queensland, Australia

Tibbett, Kevin (2005) Community specialisation, standardisation and exchange in a hunter-gatherer society: a case study from Kalkadoon country, northwest Queensland, Australia. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This thesis examines prehistoric Aboriginal production systems at Lake Moondarra, a major stone axe quarry in the semi-arid regions of northwest Queensland. At the time of contact with white settlers, the Kalkadoons, Aboriginal people from northwest Queensland participated in an expansive exchange network that spanned the continent from north to south (McCarthy 1939). When Roth (1896) was Superintendent of the Cloncurry and Boulia hospitals, his ethnographic studies left an excellent material record of northwest Queensland and he documented the presence of axe mining pits near the Bora Goldfield, present-day Lake Moondarra. Unfortunately, trade in stone axes had ceased by the time Roth recorded his observations.

Hiscock and Mitchell (1993:3) have suggested that contemporary researchers have neglected quarry studies due to the intrinsic difficulties involved in examining such sites. In addition, semi-arid regions present some difficulties for archaeologists as soil formation processes are minimal and increased erosion is caused by runoff during wet seasons. Nevertheless, the geology of Moondarra is unique and has left an indelible archaeological record that provides valuable insights into hunter-gatherer tool production, technology and society.

This thesis identifies the timing of the introduction of axe production for exchange at Moondarra as well as increases in axe production levels associated with the expansion of exchange networks in the region. Evidence for the standardisation of axe production is presented.

The thesis also challenges archaeological dogma that associates craft specialisation and standardisation with emergent complex societies, with the presentation of evidence that these also occur in hunter-gatherer societies. The thesis also expands current archaeological distribution of large quartzite leiliras or macro-blades from Arnhem Land into northwest Queensland. Evidence suggests that these may have been produced exclusively for exchange. Roth (1904) noted that ‘spear points’ (leiliras or macroblades) were obtained from Lawn Hill in northwest Queensland and exchanged at the Georgina River markets.

Current theory on the organisation of technology (Bamforth 1991, Binford 1979, Bleed 1986, Nelson 1991, Schott 1986, Torrence, 1989, 2002) is both critiqued and applied to explain stone tool procurement at Moondarra. The concept of embeddedness is confirmed in relation to subsistence tool-kits and rejected for axe and leilira blade production. This thesis suggests that current theory of hunter-gatherer technology does not explain the full spectrum of hunter-gatherer behaviour in relation to artefact production. This may in part be explained by the specifics of ethnographic work in societies. (e.g. see Binford 1978, Lee 1976, Binford 1968, Gould 1968, Thompson 1949, Stanner 1933).

However, the arguments advanced here do not necessarily contradict previous studies. Rather, they are expanded by the suggestion that two models of production co-existed at Moondarra: an embedded production system for the subsistence tool-kit alongside a community-based specialised production system for the purpose of exchange. Both systems existed simultaneously. This alerts us to the simplicity of generalisations concerning Australian exchange systems and their relationship to ritual or ceremonial concerns. The extrapolation of anthropological and archaeological case studies to general interpretations by inferring similarities and ignoring differences in past Aboriginal behaviour can be misleading.

Item ID: 1255
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Aboriginal Australians, Kalkadoon people, Lake Moondarra, north-west Queensland, archaeology, ethnography, excavations, hunter-gatherer societies, technology, stone axes, axe production, distribution, leiliras, quarries, quarrying, exchange networks, trade routes
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2005 Kevin Tibbett.
Date Deposited: 17 Nov 2006
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Archaeology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 100%
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