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.

Comments on this object

  • Great find but where do you differentiat between factual proof of use.I mean was it used for cutting scraping carving.Do the experts know.?To me it could be used for any of those things.Stone artifects show signs of use and In the picture I can't see any.Generally glass needs to be worked a second or third time as its sharp edge wears significantly if hard cutting of scraping is done.It may have been used for a short time and lost or discarded as that particular period was when the first Tasmanian s were being killed or rounded up in droves.In no way do I envisage it being as a projectile point and to me it would make a great cutting tool.It does represent minimal knapping as There doesn't appear to be any precise pressure flaking.I can see basic percussion work but not much more.Did you folk leave it in situ or did you steal it for a museum or private collection. I can Flint knap and would hope that it is given to it's makers descendants so as to respect their near forgotten and lost culture.I am not proud of our European ancestors treatment of the indigenous Tasmanians or all indigenous people as a whole.Try learning their so called primitively skills and see how they were clever smart people. Richard