Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

'Stoning Fish?' A Hitherto Unrecorded Class of Stone Artefact from the Coastal Pilbara

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

'Stoning Fish?' A Hitherto Unrecorded Class of Stone Artefact from the Coastal Pilbara

Article excerpt

Abstract: Yodda-like stone artefacts from the coastal Pilbara region of Western Australia differ markedly from recorded yoddas and constitute a hitherto unrecorded Aboriginal Australian stone implement. I suggest that the implements were possibly used as missiles for killing or stunning fish.

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For many years I have been engaged in examining the distribution of yoddas--a rare and unusual Australian tanged stone implement. In June 2002 while examining yoddas in the Western Australian Museum (WAM), I was shown a collection of 19 tanged implements that resembled crude, short-handled table-tennis bats, which had been donated to the WAM in 1995. These artefacts formed part of a larger collection of stone and shell implements, originating from a site located on the mouth of Cowrie Creek, which lies between Cape Cossigny and Cape Thouin on the Pilbara coast.

The collection had been made by Gwen and Snowy Collison of Gilgandra, New South Wales, in July 1973. According to the information provided, the artefacts had been found in an area of swale, said to be covered with hearths, midden material and artefacts. I was able to contact Mrs Collison, who subsequently provided more data about the collection and a photograph showing a further five tanged objects. These latter artefacts, part of the 'Australian Collection', are now in the Gilgandra (NSW) Shire Museum. The Collisons had collected the tanged artefacts, believing them to be yoddas.

In late 2002, I examined photographs of the five yoddas held in the South Australian Museum (SAM) collections. One (A62506), was said to be from Gilgandra, NSW. It had been donated by I Collison of Gilgandra and was said to have come 'from the grave of Miranda, chief of the Aberombie [sic] tribe' (presumably this should be Abercrombie = Ngadjuri). It had come to the SAM prior to 1971. I recognised it as one of the Cowrie Creek tanged implements and contacted Mrs Collison again to query the information provided by the SAM. Mrs Collison denied that they had ever collected 'yoddas' in New South Wales and thought that her husband had forwarded an example of the Pilbara artefact to the SAM. It appears that a mix-up had occurred in terms of location and time of donation, when registering it at the SAM.

The Cowrie Creek artefacts

Examination quickly revealed that the Cowrie Creek artefacts, although superficially yodda-like, appeared to represent a separate class of implement in their own right. Rather than having a relatively narrow tang in relation to the overall width of the artefact, as with yoddas, the tangs on these implements were generally rectangular to square in shape. Again, unlike tangs on yoddas, which generally make up at least half the total length of the artefact, tangs of the Collison artefacts were usually less than a third of their total length. A further factor was that, rather than being shaped like a bicycle seat as yoddas are, the artefacts in the Collison Collection resemble short-handled table-tennis bats. Most have a circular proximal end, although some are sub-rectangular and a few have obvious marginal damage that affects their overall symmetry (Figure 1).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Unlike yoddas, which are generally rather massive artefacts, the Collison implements are relatively thin in relation to their length/width proportions, reinforcing their bat-like appearance. Thirteen examples are very symmetrical about their longer axis. Of those that are not quite as symmetrical, it appears that the manufacturer has merely selected a suitably sized and relatively flat piece of reef float and simply created a tang at one end, rather than carefully shaping the entire piece. The symmetry of B2955-3 is affected by a diagonal break that appears to have removed a triangular piece of stone that has reduced the area of the tang by about half. Tables 1 and 2 provide metrical and other data for the Collison Collection and known Australian yoddas, respectively. …

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