Glass in Australian Contact Sites

This post was originally published on 10 February 2012 at aletheakinsela.wordpress.com

In Australian archaeology, a contact site is a cultural site that contains worked stone artefacts as well as adapted non-traditional technology, such as glass, metal or ceramics. Usually these introduced materials are fashioned in similar ways to stone tools (a technique called ‘knapping’). Contact sites are not common in Australia because Aboriginal people were often displaced soon after making contact with the British, so contact artefacts, when they appear, are quite a find.

Most of the time, cultural sites contain things like this:

The first two examples are from an Australian contact site I’ve been working on for the past few weeks. The last two are from a paleolithic cave site in the Czech Republic. These were the only kinds of cultural artefacts I’d ever come across.

Until today.

I knew before I began cataloguing this collection that it was a contact site because earlier investigations had uncovered fragments of knapped glass. It wasn’t until this afternoon that I came across something a little bit different.

My first contact artefact, and it’s a beauty.

The glass dates to the early 20th century. This means that the bush just north of Melbourne was relatively unspoiled by modern society possibly as late as 1920. Today, the landscape around Melbourne is mostly farms, country roads, small towns and large quarries. Less than 100 years ago, Aboriginal people might still have been living traditional lifestyles, picking up discarded glass bottles and fashioning them into useful tools, such as the notched scraper I discovered today.

This find has significantly altered my understanding of local history. And it makes the many arduous hours in the lab completely worthwhile.

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