Tasmanian Aboriginal glass scraper – exchanging technologies

No. 21

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This rare example of a glass artefact made by Tasmanian Aborigines symbolises some of the many aspects of two cultures at the interface. As an example of ingenious cultural adaptation – where ancient technology meets new materials – the glass artefact tells the story of a dynamic culture which continued to adapt their technology to suit a changing environment.

Through an intimate knowledge of Country and its resources, Tasmanian Aborigines quarried and worked suitable rocks and minerals – including quartz, silcrete, chert and spongolite – into highly effective tools for cutting and scraping purposes. Tasmanian Aboriginal people rapidly incorporated European glass into their tool kits. Easily modified, durable and extremely sharp when shattered or flaked, thick glass from bottles was fashioned into tools using the same techniques by which stone had been worked for thousands of years.

This tool, most likely produced between 1820 and 1830, was collected at Kempton on the Jordan River – which formed the tribal boundary between the Big River people to the west and the Oyster Bay people to the east. The river valley also served as a seasonal pathway for the Big River clans travelling to the coast, and the Oyster Bay clans heading inland to exploit the rich hunting grounds. Such pathways formed the major exchange routes along which both ceremonial and everyday goods were exchanged. Glass artefacts undoubtedly moved ahead of the frontier, from the centres of British settlement into a hinterland still occupied by its traditional owners.

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