This is a post regarding an interesting story that is currently unfolding. It has made me think about the social aspects of archaeology, especially in relation to what has been termed ‘Stone Age Economics’. My own general interest in stone tools developed into a particular interest in Kimberley Points because many were made from glass, and I had access to glass.
The literature review led me to the work of Kim Akerman, who is clearly the preeminent scholar when it comes to Kimberley Points and how they are made. On Academia.edu it is possible to download Kim’s papers, and the site provides the opportunity to let the author know why you are downloading. I explained why I wanted them and Kim got back to me directing me to two particular papers, and two good historical texts. After a brief email interaction Kim had answered my immediate questions and sent me a couple of his Powerpoints on the subject for good measure.
This set me off on my journey, and closer to home I contacted Eleanor Casella in our own University of Manchester Archaeology department. Eleanor is a historical Archaeologist who has worked in Australia and it transpired that she had excavated and found some Kimberley Points. She was really helpful explaining to me the ins and outs of the period glass that was used, and really interested in getting a couple of replicas off me for her teaching collection. I have discussed these before, but to break up the text here is a picture of a museum example and my own interpretation in green.
A couple of weeks ago Eleanor emailed to say a friend and colleague from Australia, Denis Gojak, was visiting the department and she could furnish introductions. We couldn’t meet up as it happens but he liked the points I had made for Eleanor and offered me some Australian period glass if I wanted it. Whilst it seems illogical to ship discarded glass fragments from Australia to the UK, Denis explained that his finds were sorted into: Special Finds; Reference Finds; and Discard. This was the discard material and he had financial provision to dispose of it. Kindly Denis has agreed to dispose of it in my direction.
With a 10 KG box coming I asked Denis if it would be possible to throw in a couple of other items if ‘lying around’, such as a Kangaroo ulna, Number 8 wire, and some Calytrix microphylla, a hardwood from a scrubby tree in the northern territories. All items used by aboriginals for pressure flaking. Denis rose to the challenge and put me in touch with his friend John Pickard, a botanist who…studies rural fences! John is now on the case and has a field trip planned (starting tomorrow) to western New South Wales and has offered to collect the above items on my behalf.
What is going on here? No money is changing hands for these services, but people I have never met are buying into the idea of me producing these artefacts using authentic materials. And they are going to some trouble to help me to do so. Through these objects I seem to have tapped into a network of like minded and like hearted individuals who are prepared to share their expertise and resources freely.
I teach one workshop titled ‘Stone Age Economics’ and one part of it discusses Bronislaw Malinowski’s (1922) work on the Kula Ring and gift exchange. Through the exchange of gifts social relationships are forged. The gift facilitates the relationship. Whilst preparing the workshop for that session I also read Debt: the first 5000 years by David Graeber. In it he talks about how the current way of thinking about exchange mathematically and financially is a relatively new phenomenon. Underlying this relatively new mode of financial operation is the innate human approach of swapping favours, without precisely equating six of these with one of those. It feels as though something akin to this is unfolding here. We are apparently a shared community who all invest some value in Kimberley Points and their production. Or at least we know and value our relationship with someone else who does. These favours are not being measured precisely, but being given whole heatedly from either the intellectual or practical estate from which the individual can give. Perhaps the process of giving and receiving is how we construct and reconstruct ourselves within the various communities we operate within. This is an open-ended post in that I have no conclusions on the topic. I will be delivering the Stone Age Economics lecture again this coming semester and would like to include these exchanges in it. Let’s see.
Graeber, D. 2009. Debt: the first five thousand years. New York. Mellville House Publishing.
Malinowski, B. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. New York: EP Dutton & Co.