Thesis abstract ‘Reflections about the Research Potential of Australian Lithic Industries: A Technological Approach to the Kununurra Rockshelter Assemblage’

03rd May 2014

Marie Benoit

MA, Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University, France, June 2012

Lithic analyses in archaeology are an effective way to study past societies such as hunter-gatherer groups, since stone is the only raw material which resists decay. There are many debates about how to conduct these analyses, and Australian and French archaeologists have developed their own particular methods. This thesis, written from a ‘French school’ point of view, defines the specificities of the Australian approach for a non-specialist audience and explores how the chaîne opératoire approach could be applied to typical Australian assemblages through an analysis of the lithic assemblage from Kununurra Rockshelter, Kimberley, Western Australia (WA). A previous study of the lithic artefacts from this and surrounding sites by Charles Dortch in the 1970s helped to define the two traditions’ theories and had a strong impact on Australian archaeology until recently. The present study tries to present an alternative view, concentrating on debitage methods and the different objectives of production.

The results from the oldest layers (130–260 cm) show that populations which had occupied the rock shelter used different knapping strategies for the raw materials they brought back to the shelter, most of which came from the Ord River. These strategies—which ranged from the opportunistic exploitation of stone cobbles using their natural convexities, to a highly conceptual method (Levallois)—attest to a gradual degree of complexity in knapping concepts. Moreover, they demonstrate that the knappers knew how to adapt their economic system to local resources and to their various objectives. The products of these methods are mostly flakes and blades, some of which were transformed into points through retouch. This study also reveals the likely existence of an independent chaîne opératoire for a particular kind of bifacial point with covering retouch, which seems to be conceived in terms of bifacial volume from the first step of its fabrication. These results lead to a reconsideration of the previous study’s conclusions. The Kununurra assemblage, far from justifying the pan-Australian pattern of a unique chaîne opératoire as described by Flenniken and White (1985), presents at least two different reduction sequences, with one exhibiting different modalities of execution.

This thesis, other than challenging Australian approaches, tries to offer another point of view on Australian lithic industries. The results show that an application of the chaîne opératoire approach to Australian lithics could provide insights into the economic strategies and technical knowledge of past hunter-gather groups. The conclusion is encouraging and could motivate future attempts to apply this approach to Australian lithic industries.

Flenniken, J. and P. White 1985 Australian flaked stone tools: A technological perspective. Records of the Australian Museum 36(3):131–151.

Benoit, M.
Thesis abstract ‘Reflections about the Research Potential of Australian Lithic Industries: A Technological Approach to the Kununurra Rockshelter Assemblage’
June 2014

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