A piece of PNG
WHEN DID STONE AXES HAVE THEIR HEYDA Y?
Stone axes were common in Papua New Guinea prior to the arrival of Europeans, who introduced steel axes. This started in the 1800s in coastal areas and in the 1930s in the Highlands.
HOW WERE THE AXES USED ?
They were primarily tools for cutting trees and shaping timber for use – felling a tree with a stone axe took three to four times times longer than using a steel one. Adzes, where the stone head is mounted at right angles to the shaft, were more often used in gardening, to break up soil. Only rarely were stone axes used for fighting (stone clubs were preferred).
WERE THEY USED IN CERE MONIES ?
In the Western Highlands, large axes with broad flat and thin slate blades, and mounted in large distinctly cross-hatched woven rattan cane hafts (handles), were displayed in traditional dances. They were used occasionally to cut off parts of people’s fingers in memory of relatives who had died. As valuable objects, stone axe heads were important items in trade networks, compensation and bride-price payments.
WHERE WERE THEY MADE ?
Only certain hard volcanic stones are suitable for use as an axe head. Stone was extracted in quarries, sometimes from deep shafts – perhaps the first underground mining in PNG thousands of years ago. Traditional quarries or ‘ factories’ are known to have existed in the Wahgi and Jimi valleys of Western Highlands Province and in Simbu Province.
HOW WERE THEY MADE ?
The pieces of stone, extracted by splitting stone that had been alternately heated and cooled, were shaped, a blade edge ground, and the whole thing polished on sandstone or similar, often near running water. Anthropologists have estimated that it took 35 to 45 hours to grind down, polish and sharpen a work axe and another 40 hours to haft it. Axe heads were mounted into a wooden haft, often a suitably shaped single piece of wood that was split to accept the axe head, then held in place with a tight binding of split cane. Working axe heads were thick with an oval cross-section, while ceremonial axes were flat and thin.