Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Diversity in Lithic Raw Material Sources on New Britain, Papua New Guinea

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Diversity in Lithic Raw Material Sources on New Britain, Papua New Guinea

Article excerpt


The nature of chert exposures in the Passismanua area of West New Britain, Papua New Guinea is reviewed in light of reports of worked seams of chert in five caves. Extraction of chert at one cave, Ale, began within the last 3,000 years, but such exposures have been used from the late Pleistocene onwards. The nature and quality of the exposures would often have placed severe constraints on the production of flaked tools. The chert sources are compared with those of obsidian on the north side of New Britain, highlighting the potential advantages and problems of each. A small group of finely made stemmed chert tools is identified as potentially valuables similar to stemmed obsidian tools of the Willaumez Peninsula obsidian source region. While the chert examples differ in aspects of technology and form, they share with the obsidian forms the concept of bifacially-worked stems and were made during the same period. This is seen as indicating social relationships between the two areas during the middle Holocene comparable to that recently proposed between Manus and New Britain.

Keywords: obsidian, New Britain, chert, stemmed tools, mid-Holocene, sources


The nature of lithic raw material sources can have a significant influence on the production, use and circulation of flaked stone tools (e.g. Andrefsky 1994; Bamforth 1990; Torrence 1986). In the Papua New Guinea region, studies of sources of flakeable stone have focused on exposures of obsidian in Manus and West New Britain provinces (Fullagar et al. 1991; Fullagar and Torrence 1991; Torrence et al. 1992, 2000, 2004a). As Pavlides (2004: 98, 2006: 207) has pointed out, however, secondary exposures as cobbles and boulders in the beds of water courses and on beaches were also major sources of flakeable stone in many parts of Papua New Guinea (e.g. Sheppard 1996; Evans and Mountain 2005; Ford, this issue). In this paper I am concerned with a third kind of exposure that is often less visible: that of chert in the Passismanua area of interior West New Britain (Fig. 1). The chert industries of this region have been on record for over 40 years (Chowning and Goodale 1966; Shutler and Kess 1969), and Pavlides has provided a picture of the production and use of chert tools from the late Pleistocene onwards (Pavlides 1999, 2004, 2006; Pavlides and Gosden 1994). Chert has been reported in stream beds within the Passismanua area (Crowning and Goodale 1966: 150; Goodale 1966; Pavlides 2004: 98; Bulmer 2005: fig. 2), and the use of 'bedrock' primary sources in sinkholes has been proposed on the basis of extensive deposits of 'rubble' and other debris likely to derive from extracting and processing the raw material at several locations (Pavlides 2006: 211). There are, however, no detailed accounts of chert exposures that have served as source locations (cf. Pavlides 1999: 145).

Important new data relating to primary sources now provide insights into the nature and distribution of chert exposures, and permit a better understanding of issues relating to raw material procurement, processing and use in this region. The paper presents these data in terms of the availability, accessibility and quality of these sources, and compares them with the obsidian sources on Willaumez Peninsula and at Mopir on the north side of New Britain (Specht 1981; Fullagar et al. 1991; Torrence et al. 1992). The comparisons raise a number of significant issues regarding raw material procurement and use in each area, and identify the possibility of a category of chert valuables in the middle Holocene comparable to stemmed tools of the Willaumez Peninsula region.

The chert sources--description

The Passismanua chert derives from the Yalam Limestone geological formation that covers about 7200 [km.sup.2] (16%) of the surface of New Britain. This limestone is mostly of marine origin and was formed during the Miocene (Davies 1973; Ryburn 1974, 1975: 11-12, 1976: 11). …

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