For the third time this year, a spearhead thought to have been used in the 19th century has been found on Australia’s Rottnest Island, located off the coast of Perth.
Forty-five students from The University of Western Australia’s School of Indigenous Studies, accompanied by eight members of the staff, were on site to learn about indigenous prisoners who once inhabited the area. While Professor Len Collard was digging around in the sand with his foot, he saw the sun reflecting off of something shiny. More careful digging revealed it to be a glass spearhead of the type thought to have been used there by Aboriginal men and boys as long ago as 1838.
A student found a glass spearhead on Rottnest Island earlier this year, and a ceramic one was uncovered last year by a staff member.
“I can’t say why these finds are happening,’ Professor Collard said.
“It could be due to our historic knowledge of knowing what to look for, and that artifacts may be more easily found due to soil and water erosion over time.”
“Either way, such natural discoveries illuminate the strength and technology of our cultural heritage and are important for education today and in future generations about our local history.”
Professor Collard went on to explain that they were historically significant examples of indigenous engineering, as old principles were used to make tools from new commodities, such as glass and ceramics.
“As historical icons, they demonstrate to us that the Aboriginal men were engaged in transitional cultural engineering,” he said.
Collard said that complete spearheads were an unusual find. “These are perfect ones, they’re not broken or in half,” he remarked. “There’s partial spear tips at the museum, but no finished ones.”
“They’re rarer now than they were 10 or 20 years ago, because no doubt people would have found them.”
The professor stressed the value to his students of coming into contact with the buried spearhead.
“It’s real, it’s not an artificial experience,” he said. “It really brings home the stories you can read about in the books. To be there firsthand finding it is a completely realistic and surreal experience for students.”
Out of respect for Aboriginal tradition, the spearhead was re-buried on Rottnest Island. Professor Collard said it was important to uphold the tradition of keeping artifacts in their resting places. “To remove them from the island is a lawful matter,” he said.
“The other thing, of course, is that the original owner might follow you home and want it back.”