Image Kimberley points, late 19th century

TLF ID R7584

This image shows five small, sharp cutting blades known as 'Kimberley points' that were made of different coloured glass and ceramic materials by Indigenous Australian craftspeople in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. They are an average of 8 cm long and 2.5 cm wide. The points at top right and bottom left show traces of resin on their bases.



Educational details

Educational value
  • Few of the many Aboriginal stone tools found throughout Australia can match the level of craftsmanship of a Kimberley point. Mastery of a sophisticated 'pressure-flaking' technique is needed to achieve the delicate serrated edges. Before metal tools were introduced the toolmakers would apply pressure to the material being shaped into the point with tools made from the bones of crabs, freshwater crocodiles, dugongs or even humans.
  • Kimberley points were originally made only of stone, the use of glass and various ceramic materials only becoming widespread following contact with Europeans in the late 19th century, because they were easier to work with. The letters on the point in the middle of the top row clearly shows it has been made from a European ceramic object.
  • One of the main uses of Kimberley points was as spearheads. Because of their low weight compared to other spearheads, they could be attached with a small piece of resin to long, slender and light wooden shafts that could be launched at high speed during hunting and fighting. The point would often disengage from the shaft when it hit the target.
  • Kimberley points made of stone or glass were used for utilitarian and ritual purposes. Some were used as knives, for example for cutting up meat. Some had handles made of resin or of resin and wood. Points were sometimes used in ceremonies involving cutting, including circumcisions. Some Kimberley points were believed to have magical properties, with at least one Aboriginal group using them in sorcery rituals designed to inflict harm on enemies.
  • Kimberley points were traded between Aboriginal groups over vast areas of Australia. Many traded points ended up in the Northern Territory, and some have been found as far east as central Queensland. To protect them while being carried they were commonly wrapped in wallets made of strips of bark of the paperbark tree ('Melaleuca leucodendron') and cushioned in bird down, fur or bulrushes.
  • It appears that Kimberley blades have been made for more than 1,000 years. Radiocarbon dating has been used on material from sites where archaeologists have recovered stone Kimberley blades, and has given age estimates of 1,020 to 1,760 years BP (before the present). A dwindling number of craftsmen in a few remote Aboriginal communities still manufacture points today.
  • There are thousands of Kimberley points dating from post-European contact in public museum and private collections. It is believed that this is due in part to high production in the 1900s to satisfy a demand from non-Indigenous collectors who wanted points as Indigenous artefacts, rather than production for traditional purposes.
Year level

7

Learning area
  • history
Strand
  • History/Historical knowledge and understanding

    Other details

    Contributors
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    • Copyright holder
    • Organisation: Museum of Victoria
    • Address: Carlton VIC 3053 Australia
    • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of Museum Victoria
    • Publisher
    • Date of contribution: 05 Sep 2013
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
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