A Tale of Two Blades: Macro-Blade Manufacture and Discard in Paraburdoo, Western Australia

Article excerpt

Abstract

The manufacture and distribution of macro-blades in the Paraburdoo area of south central Pilbara is described and its relation to theories regarding their intended use discussed. The Pilbara evidence is compared to that from elsewhere in northern Australia.

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The Pilbara is within the macro-blade distribution area of northern Australia (Figure 1). Macro-blades (defined below) are widely distributed throughout northern Australia, over an area extending from Darwin in the north to the Great Victoria Desert in the south and from Onslow in the west to Cheviot Range in the east. In the Pilbara macro-blade quarries occur in numbers stretching from the coast (Akerman 1976b; Vinnicombe 1987) as far inland as the south-eastern side of the Hamersley Ranges (Figure 2, Figure 9) (Akerman 1976a, 1976b; Bradshaw et al. 1996; Brown 1987; Dortch and Bordes 1977; Hook, Hammond et al. 2002; Hook, Veitch et al. 2000a,. 2000b; Strawbridge 1993; Veitch, Hook et al. 2002). Systematic pedestrian surveys for CRM purposes around Paraburdoo (Figure 2, Figure 5) have identified large numbers of macro-blades in contexts ranging from isolated artefacts through to extensive quarry workshops. Three features of macro-blade reduction and distribution have been identified at Paraburdoo. Firstly, macro-blades are manufactured primarily from banded iron formation and dolerite, with a demonstrably different reduction technique employed for each lithology. Secondly, there is discrete spatial patterning in the selection of these materials that has no obvious basis in resource availability. Thirdly, there is a correlation between site type and lithology: banded iron formation blades occur in habitation sites while dolerite macro-blades do not. This paper describes the Paraburdoo macro-blade reduction techniques and their spatial patterning at Paraburdoo and develops an explanation of why the patteming occurs, especially in relation to their intended use. This is then discussed in light of evidence from elsewhere in northern Australia.

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Paraburdoo Macro-blades

Definition

As in other areas of northern Australia the most common term in the Pilbara for macro-blades is leilira (see Akerman 1976b; Graham and Thorley 1996; McCarthy 1976; Mulvaney 1975: 74-75). Other terms used include ridged blades (Thorley et al. 1993), large blades (Allen 1997) and prismatic blades (Dortch and Bordes 1977). All refer to "massive, pointed trigonal primary flakes" (Mulvaney 1975: 74-75) or "an elongate blade trapezoid in section" (McCarthy 1976: 35) and as with most definitions there is dispute regarding the correct usage (Akerman 2007; Graham and Thorley 1996). Akerman (1976b: 177; 2007: 23) suggests, based on the first use of the term, that leilira should only be used to refer to silcrete/quartzite blades that are more than 120 mm in length. The large blades at Paraburdoo, therefore, do not fit Akerman's (1976b: 177; 2007) definition for a leilira as they are manufactured from dolerite and ironstone/banded iron formation, with some in chert, mudstone and silcrete. Furthermore they are on average 72 mm long which is much smaller than the lengths for leilira. Therefore, the term macro-blade has been used here to define a flake as least twice as long as it is wide, with parallel or sub parallel lateral margins and more than one parallel arris (central dorsal ridge) and measuring more than 40 mm long (although often the average lengths are closer to 70 ram). In cross section it will be either trapezoid or triangular (Figure 3, Figure 4). Associated cores and debitage feature 90[degrees] platform angles, overhang removal, parallel arrises and parallel margins (Figure 7, Figure 8).

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Distribution

The macro-blades were recorded during cultural resource management assessments conducted since 1998 for Pilbara Iron (Dias et al. …