Review of ‘Time to Quarry: The Archaeology of Stone Procurement in Northwestern New South Wales, Australia’ by Trudy Doelman

01st December 2009

time to quarry book coverTime to Quarry: The Archaeology of Stone Procurement in Northwestern New South Wales, Australia by Trudy Doelman. British Archaeological Reports International Series S1801, Archaeopress, Oxford, 2008, xiv+179 pp., ISBN 9781407302881.

Justin Shiner

Archaeology Program, School of Historical and European Studies, La Trobe University, Bundoora Vic. 3086, Australia

Quarries have long been recognised by Australian archaeologists interested in the study of stone artefacts. Despite this, quarry assemblages have rarely been investigated at the scale required to understand their role in stone artefact production systems. This in part reflects the difficulty of defining quarries, something admirably attempted two decades ago by Hiscock and Mitchell (1993) in Stone Artefact Quarries and Reduction Sites in Australia: Towards a Type Profile (Canberra, A.G.P.S.). Further, the study of quarries is complicated by the large numbers of artefacts spread over many square metres and the near absence of dateable materials associated with the deposits. Trudy Doelman takes up some of these challenges in Time to Quarry.

Time to Quarry is published as part of the BAR International Series and primarily presents the results of Doelman’s PhD research at silcrete Quarries 27 and 35 from the arid MountWoodRanges of SturtNational Park near Tibooburra. This work was undertaken as part of the broader Western New South Wales Archaeological Program (WNSWAP). Overall the volume is clear and methodical, representing a very worthwhile addition to the increasing amount of material published on western New South Wales (NSW). Doelman systematically builds her argument that quarries must be studied from the perspective of technological organisation within a non-site framework that incorporates an understanding of the time dependant nature of assemblage formation.

The volume begins with the introductory chapter that outlines the theoretical and methodological framework behind the objective of the research to identify the factors that influence the formation of quarry assemblages through an analysis of reduction strategies, landscape context and role of time in artefact discard. Doelman makes the point that the study of quarries fits into the broader theoretical and methodological challenges posed by the surface archaeological record. The second chapter builds the theoretical framework of the research with considerable attention given to understanding assemblage formation. This serves to highlight the complex range of factors involved in the formation of lithic assemblages. The nature of the surface archaeological record as a palimpsest was explored in several sections. The discussion would have benefitted from a more detailed consideration of the implications of this for the study, particularly in terms of the potentially long span of time associated with quarry use compared to the late Holocene artefact scatters in the more geomorphically active creek valley below Quarry 35. These artefact scatters become important later in the study.

The landscape context of the study area is summarised in the third chapter. From this it is clear that the MountWood area is a very rich lithic landscape with a range of potential raw material sources. Further, geomorphological and chronological data from other WNSWAP studies are used to highlight the chronological context of occupation in the StudCreekValley below Quarry 35. Chapter 4 summarises field and analytical methods which are critical for understanding the subsequent chapters. The results of the quarry fieldwork are presented in Chapters 5 through 8. These chapters treat both quarries separately, but essentially subject each quarry to the same set of technological and spatial analyses. Several key differences are revealed between the quarries. In summary, Doelman notes that Quarry 27 exhibits a limited amount of core reduction compared to Quarry 37.

In Chapter 8 the nature of quarried and non-quarried stone reduction across the broader landscape is investigated through the analysis of assemblages from landscape sampling units at upper and lower Stud Creek. One of these, the Upper Stud Creek sampling area, was recorded by Doelman, while the Stud 1 and Stud 2 areas were recorded during WNSWAP fieldwork. Through the analysis of core morphology and flake characteristics, it is demonstrated that raw material quality, distribution, nodule size and form were significant factors that influenced assemblage composition. A technological strategy of expedient reduction of the generally lower quality gibber cobbles at the Upper Stud Creek sampling area is contrasted with the curated reduction of quarried stone which is used for specialised reduction and tool manufacture demonstrated at the Stud 1 and Stud 2 locations.

The major conclusions of the study are developed in Chapter 9 where the quarries are compared to evaluate the definition of what a quarry actually represents. This is an interesting section of the book where a number of technological analyses (the proportion of different core types, flake size and platform characteristics) are undertaken to illustrate key differences in the reduction strategies employed at both sites. Quarry 35 exhibits a more intensive pattern of core reduction than Quarry 27 which is argued to represent a greater focus on blade manufacture. The second part of this chapter focuses on the relationship between time and assemblage formation. Here it is argued that the two quarries were used differently, with visits to Quarry 35 tending to be longer in duration owing to the more complex nature of core reduction and the discard of a greater number of tools. The chapter then moves onto examine the role of different types of stone resources in assemblage composition throughout the study area, suggesting that the reduction of stone from gibber pavements reflects procurement embedded in other activities, while the quarries reflect a more specialised pattern of use, with an emphasis on the complex reduction sequence at Quarry 35 compared to Quarry 27. The chapter concludes with a re-evaluation of quarry definitions concluding that quarries are often different in character, complex and contain material related to not only to extraction but also core reduction.

I was slightly disappointed that the discussion of quarry definition did not move beyond the correlation to functional factors. The quarry as a distinct entity is an anthropological concept without regard for the variability and time-depth of the archaeological record. Doelman argues that the use of stone procured from adjacent gibber pavements at the Upper Stud Creek sampling area does not represent quarrying as the material was not removed from the source. I find it hard to agree with her on the basis that functional conclusions implied by site types prejudice one type of behaviour over others by attempting to assign an average behaviour to an assemblage. As Doelman notes, complex processes have led to the formation of the archaeological record, and this includes the different periods over which accumulation occurred. Given the acknowledged palimpsest nature of the record, there then seems little justification for inferring models based on ethnographic notions of site function. All of the assemblages evaluated in the study exhibit quarry-like behaviour, as they do other types of behaviour. It is the relationship between these and assemblage composition through time that is of real interest.

Chapter 10 reaffirms the conclusions of the study drawn from the previous chapters. Doelman notes that Australian quarry studies are rare and that further work is required to understand the role of raw material in technological systems.

I enjoyed reading Time to Quarry. Many years ago I briefly participated in some of the fieldwork at Quarry 35 and it is pleasing to see the results of this work in print. My only observations regarding the presentation of the volume are that it would have benefitted from a careful proof read prior to printing and the greyscale format makes it difficult to interpret some of the maps which are critical to the conclusions drawn from the data. Some of the typographic errors may reflect the difficulty of formatting word documents into the BAR style, rather than errors of the author.

This is an impressive study that provides the justification for detailed artefact-level analysis of large samples from individual locations – something I wholly support. Time to Quarry is a must read for anyone interested in Australian stone artefacts and more specifically quarry studies.

Justin Shiner
Review of ‘Time to Quarry: The Archaeology of Stone Procurement in Northwestern New South Wales, Australia’ by Trudy Doelman
December 2009
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