Aboriginal quarries are places where Aboriginal people extract stone or ochre from a naturally occurring source. Stone is used to make tools and implements, while ochre can be applied for painting and body decoration. Aboriginal quarries may vary in size, from a single protrusion in the ground to many outcrops over a wide area.
The types of stone material used by Aboriginal people depends largely on the geology of the local area and trade networks available. This most commonly includes fine grained materials such as silcrete, hornfels, chert and spongolite, although other stone types may also be used. Ochre occurs as a clay earth pigment comprising a mixture of ferric oxide, clay and sand, and ranges in colour from reds through to various shades of brown, yellow and white. The raw material is heated, then pounded and ground into a fine powder and mixed with fat and blood to form a paste. Aboriginal people use the paste to paint motifs onto hard surfaces or apply to their hair and body in decoration. The ochre also provides protection against the cold and insect bites.
How to identify an Aboriginal stone quarry
It can be difficult to distinguish between the natural weathering of stone and an Aboriginal quarry. Temperature changes, chemical processes and land modification can impact and alter the rock, imitating the appearance of Aboriginal quarrying activities. There are, however, identifiable features and attributes that can help to determine an Aboriginal quarry.
Indications of human impact include concave scars, where an indentation and ripple effect can be seen on the quarry surface as a result of removing stone pieces. Quarries may also be indicated by the presence of many stone artefacts on the surrounding ground.
Where are Aboriginal quarries found?
Quarries occur throughout Tasmania and vary regionally by type according to where suitable stone materials can be accessed. For example, the only known spongolite quarry in Tasmania is in the north-west. Quarry sites are chosen based on attributes such as the hardness or quality of the stone, the way the stone fractures or the colour of the ochre. However, socio-cultural, spiritual, political, and economic reasons within Aboriginal society may also determine where raw materials are sourced. Often quarries are found in association with other site types such as shell middens, artefact scatters, stone arrangements and rock shelters.
Why are Aboriginal quarries important?
Quarries are important to Tasmanian Aboriginal people because they provide tangible links to their ancestors and are part of a diverse cultural landscape. Aboriginal quarries provide evidence of how Aboriginal people manufactured tools in the past and distributed materials throughout the landscape. Highly valued stone and ochre varieties could be traded widely and therefore Aboriginal quarries also provide information about the networks of interaction, economy and trade that existed between different groups of Aboriginal people. Today the Tasmanian Aboriginal communities continue to maintain the traditional practice of using ochre and wearing it in ceremony and dance.
Aboriginal quarries are protected
It is an offence to destroy, damage, deface, conceal, remove or otherwise interfere with a relic. It is also an offence not to report the finding of a relic.
If you suspect that an Aboriginal quarry has been discovered during your activity, do not interfere with the site - report the site to Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania.
Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania
GPO Box 123
Hobart TAS 7001
Phone: 1300 487 045