Usewear and Residue Analysis of Stone Artefacts from the Enclosed Chamber, Rocky Cape, Tasmania

Article excerpt

Abstract

The Enclosed Chamber from the Rocky Cape South excavations of Rhys Jones (1971) contained a sealed, intact, 6,000 year old living area with excellent organic preservation and minimal post depositional disturbance. From a selection of 150 stones, RF identified 43 used implements with a total of 55 utilised edges/surfaces, after examining usewear and a preliminary analysis of residues. Only six artefacts had retouch. Specific activities identified include the processing of plant (wood, starchy, resinous and siliceous materials) and animal tissue (flesh, skin and bone). Discrete activity areas were not identified. However, the minimal evidence for stone working and the small number of identified tasks indicated by the usewear and residue analysis suggest an expedient use of the small shelter for domestic tasks, including plant food processing. The study demonstrates that an integrated approach, which examines both residues and usewear, has very high potential for determining the functions of not only fine-grained stones, like chert, but also quartz and the coarse-grained quartzites and silcretes, commonly found in many Australian archaeological sites.

KEYWORDS: Tasmania, Rocky Cape, stone artefacts, usewear, residues

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Jones (1971) conducted major scientific excavations at Rocky Cape in northwestern Tasmania between 1964 and 1967 (Figure 1). Near the end of the fieldwork, these excavations revealed a buried cave entrance, and (with Harry Lourandos) he collected archaeological material from the surface layers of this buried cave, called the Enclosed Chamber (or the 'Inner Cave'), beside the entrance of the Main Chamber, Rocky Cape South (Figure 1). The aims of this paper are to describe usewear and residues on stone artefacts from the Enclosed Chamber, and to assess whether discrete activities are archaeologically visible at this site, an occupation surface or living floor that lay undisturbed for thousands of years, with apparently excellent preservation.

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The two excavated sites Rocky Cape North and Rocky Cape South provide a sequence of Tasmanian prehistory from over 8,000 years ago to the present. These excavations formed the basis of Jones' PhD thesis (Jones 1971), which provides detailed descriptions and analyses of the geography, ethnography, history and archaeology of these northwestern Tasmanian sites. The sites have been considered in the context of Tasmanian prehistory from both Australian and world perspectives (Jones 1966, 1968, 1973, 1976, 1977) and Jones' main thesis was that the ethnographically observed Tasmanian Aborigines were cultural and biological descendants of mainland Pleistocene Aborigines. Most similarities between Tasmanian and mainland Australian archaeological assemblages were interpreted as relicts of this Pleistocene connection. It was argued that many cultural differences were the result of physical and genetic isolation, which led to fewer classes of material culture items than on the mainland (Jones 1973, 1976, 1977). Alternative scenarios have since been offered (e.g. Bowdler and Lourandos 1982; Pardoe 1991; Sim and West 1999; Vanderwal and Horton 1984).

An important aim of Jones' initial research was to establish a chronological sequence based in part on stone artefact analayses. He applied usewear analysis to a slection of fine-grained siliceous (e.g. chert) stone artefacts with evidence of retouch or utilisation, to reconstruct prehistoric activities. Jones argued cautiously that his analysis may not be representative of the entire assemblage, and therefore he did not make inferences about changes in activities, which might be reflected by changes in the stone implement types. A significant reason for this was that the usewear analysis excluded the large number of coarse-grained quartzite artefacts, and lacked systematic tool-use experiments with local materials. To address some of these concerns, Fullagar examined the full range of stone artefact materials and designed ethnographically based tool-use experiments. …