Experimental and Archaeological Studies of Use-Wear and Residues on Obsidian Artefacts from Papua New Guinea

By Robertson, Gail | Archaeology in Oceania, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Experimental and Archaeological Studies of Use-Wear and Residues on Obsidian Artefacts from Papua New Guinea


Robertson, Gail, Archaeology in Oceania


Experimental and archaeological studies of use-wear and residues on obsidian artefacts from

Papua New Guinea

By Nina Kononenko

Technical Reports of the Australian Museum,

Online 21:1-244 (2011)

DOI: 10.3853/j.1835-4211.21.2011.1559

This timely monograph is a modified version of Kononenko's PhD thesis which was completed in 2008. Kononenko's research incorporates the most comprehensive study of use-wear on obsidian tools published since Hurcombe's (1992) seminal monograph, which has been the 'bible' of obsidian use-wear analysts to date.

The aims of the monograph are three-fold. Firstly, to continue to develop the analytical techniques used in obsidian use-wear and residue studies in order to improve the reliability of functional interpretations of artefacts. Secondly, to provide a resource for researchers in the form of an extensive range of coloured images of use-wear and residues on obsidian, and, thirdly, to apply the methodology to resolve important questions regarding significant technological changes that occurred during the Late Holocene throughout the Western Pacific.

The study comprises an extensive experimental programme involving the use of local obsidian to manufacture tools to process an impressive array of reference materials, most of which are readily available in West New Britain and were obtained and employed locally. The concept of replicating tool use with local materials is methodologically sound, as it constrains at least some of the variability innate in experimental use-wear studies and approximates prehistoric conditions. This discretion persists throughout Kononenko's research, including her choice of the FAO site on Garua Island, West New Britain for her case study. The FAO site has unequivocal stratigraphic and temporal integrity and a large number of obsidian artefacts distributed over the transitional Mid to Late Holocene. This was a period of changing technology (the appearance of Lapita pottery) and the data on obsidian wear patterns obtained from Kononenko's experiments are applied to the functional analysis of the FAO site obsidian artefacts in an effort to address questions of possible concurrent changes in "subsistence, domestic activities, site structure and settlement patterns".

The monograph is organised in two sections. The first part is of three chapters and details the methods, methodology and experimental programme, including the results of 292 replication experiments, with the data presented both in text with excellent summaries and in table form in an Appendix. The second describes the case study in which 190 tools were identified from almost 1400 obsidian artefacts analysed, and their function interpreted by comparison with the experimental use-wear data. The final chapter in this section considers these results within the broader context of Western Pacific archaeology and provides a reconstruction of cultural behaviour at the FAO site during the period overlapping the introduction of Lapita pottery.

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