Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Quarrying Masses of Information: An Approach to the Recording and Interpretation of a Quarry Assemblage

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Quarrying Masses of Information: An Approach to the Recording and Interpretation of a Quarry Assemblage

Article excerpt


A detailed study using a non-site distributional approach has focused on Quarry 35, situated in the Mt Wood Range of Sturt National Park, Northwestem New South Wales. The analysis illustrates how accurate recording and appropriate sampling techniques were used to firstly understand the spatial and technological variation in a quarry assemblage and secondly to identify its role as a resource in the wider landscape. The results show that the procurement of stone from Quarry 35 was planned, highly organised and was essential to the successful acquisition of resources in a difficult arid zone environment.

Keywords: quarrying, technological organisation, spatial analysis, arid zone


Quarry research has seen the transition from purely descriptive accounts to the placement of quarries within a wider settlement system (Root 1992:14-22). In the 1980s the analysis of quarry assemblages was recognised as the first, pivotal step in studying the entire "lithic production system" which incorporates all the activities and places involved in the procurement, manufacture and use of stone from a quarry (Ericson 1984:2). Quarries are now used to study manufacturing technology, the organisation of specialist or egalitarian production, and the costs and strategies involved in the procurement and distribution of stone seen through exchange networks, trade or different patterns of mobility (e.g. Arnold 1987; Binford 1979, 1980; Byrne 1980; Bamforth 1992; McBryde and Harrison 1981; McBryde and Watchman 1976; Root 1992; Torrence 1983, 1986). As a result, considerable research has focused on quarries throughout the world. Unfortunately, in the 1990s Australia quarry research still remained relatively underdeveloped, was sometimes purely descriptive and frequently failed to deal with any wider theoretical applications (Hiscock and Mitchell 1993:72-80). Gaps in our knowledge of Australian quarries present significant challenges to those who attempt to study this important part of the archaeological record.

In the past, quarries have been largely ignored by archaeologists for several reasons. Purdy (1984:119) lists these reasons as the lack of stratigraphic control, the absence of formal artefact types, the palimpsest of activates and the problems of dating such an assemblage. Consequently, quarries are seen as "a mass of data creating nothing but serious methodological problems" (Ericson 1984:2). Furthermore, a serious oversight in quarry research has been the failure to discuss methods or take into account the problems of spatial variation in the assemblage when sampling, which often leads to a sampling bias in the results. This paper attempts to overcome some of the problems associated with the recording and interpretation of a quarry assemblage by providing a new approach, incorporating a physical, spatial and technological analysis to identify how and why people organised their technology in particular ways.

To illustrate this approach Quarry 35 located in the Mt Wood Range of north-western New South Wales was selected for a thorough investigation. Firstly, a detailed recording of the quarry's physical characteristics, which integrates its geological and geomorphology features, contextualises the quarry within the wider landscape. Secondly, a non-site distributional approach is used to search for spatial variation in the quarry assemblage and to select areas for the analysis of the flaking debris. Lastly, a technological analysis of the quarry assemblage examines what was manufactured and removed from the quarry. The results provide insights into the types of technological organisational strategies involved in the exploitation of stone resources during the Late Holocene of arid zone Australia.

Non-site archaeology and the quarry

Non-site distributional approaches to the archaeological record use individual artefacts as the unit of analysis (Dunnell 1992; Dunnell and Dancey 1983; Ebert 1992; Foley 1981a, 1981b; Nelson 1991; Thomas 1975). …

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