AAA2020 Virtual Conference Banner 7 - 10 Dec

Disentangling Activity Traces on Australian Goldfields: An Experimental Study of Quartz Assemblages Derived from Knapping and Gold Prospectings

Dr Caroline Spry
La Trobe University

Rebekah Kurpiel, La Trobe University
Elizabeth Foley, La Trobe University
Jodi Turnbull, Ochre Imprints
Paul Penzo-Kajewski, La Trobe University

Archaeologists have long grappled with the identification of quartz artefacts in the archaeological record. The particular fracture mechanics of quartz can complicate the distinction between knapped quartz, other types of deliberately broken quartz, and natural occurrences of this mineral. In Australia, the quartz ‘problem’ is compounded on goldfields, where quartz debris from knapping, gold mining and other processes has the potential to co-occur. This paper investigates whether quartz assemblages produced by Aboriginal knappers and post-contact gold prospectors each possess a unique ‘signature’. It compares two quartz assemblages made experimentally using different but commonly used techniques with potential for creating artefacts with similar features: freehand direct hard-hammer percussion (knapping), and gold prospecting with a pick-axe. The results indicate that the majority of artefacts in each assemblage are amorphous and lack diagnostic markers. Nonetheless, differences between the products of each technique are apparent at the assemblage level. Overall, the results highlight the complexities involved in investigating quartz artefacts, including on goldfields, and emphasise the importance of a holistic, assemblage-based approach to the study of quartz artefacts from different time periods and manufacturing origins.


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