Culture and heritage

Aboriginal cultural heritage

Stone tools

An artefact is anything which has been made or modified by people. The term 'stone artefact' includes both a finished product - usually a stone tool - and the debris which was left behind when it was made.

Stone artefacts are the most common form of archaeological evidence found in Australia. In areas where the landscape has not been drastically altered by European settlement, these artefacts can be found lying on the surface, often in quite large numbers. They can also be uncovered by erosion, road works, or ploughing.


How were stone tools made?


Two main methods were used to make stone tools: percussion flaking and grinding.


Percussion flaking


To make stone tools by percussion flaking, the Aboriginal toolmaker first had to select an appropriate raw material. They preferred fine-grained silica-based rocks, such as quartz, quartzite, silcrete, and chert. These can all be flaked relatively easily.

First, a suitable piece of rock, known as the core, was selected. It was struck by a second piece, the hammerstone. Smaller thin pieces of stone, called flakes, were chipped off. This process had one of two aims - to chip off a usable flake, or to shape the core itself into a tool.

The flaking process produces a large amount of stone material, including unused flakes, used flakes, hammerstones, used cores, and finished tools. You can recognise this material by the characteristic marks on the stone produced by the blow of the hammerstone. For example, the new surface of a flake includes a round 'bump' while the core has a hollow on its surface where the flake once was.




Archaeological evidence of stone grinding is not as common as that of flaking. Toolmakers preferred hard, volcanic stones which can hold an edge. Examples of these rocks include dolerite or basalt. The selected piece of stone was usually shaped by flaking before it was ground. Grinding was used to put the finishing touches on the shape of a tool, and sharpen its cutting edge.

Ground implements were shaped on suitable surfaces such as sandstone outcrops. In the Sydney district there are hundreds of grinding grooves. Most commonly, these were used to sharpen axes or hatchets. Narrower grooves were made by the sharpening of smaller implements, such as chisels. You'll usually find grinding grooves on flat sandstone surfaces near water.

Dishes for milling grain or ochre were also common. These were often shaped by pecking, and had ground surfaces caused by wear.


What were stone tools used for?


The only implements which early settlers described in detail when they settled at Port Jackson were edge-ground axes. These were mounted on wooden handles and seemed to be used as all-purpose tools for woodworking.

Other stone tools were also used in woodworking. Some were set into handles and used as chisels, saws, or knives. Others may have been used as spear points, food preparation utensils, or tools to make nets, baskets, and other implements.

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Page last updated: 21 May 2013