Raiders of the lost axe: on macropods, phalangers, where and why - comments on Sutton's comment on Morwood and Trezise (and Pleistocene Axes)


  • Bruno David Department of Anthropology & Sociology, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072



Although I agree with Sutton that we should take care to avoid presenting our data as 'fact' until suitably rigid procedures have been employed in the collection of data and in the testing of ideas, I think that Morwood and Tresize (1989) should be congratulated for presenting information on a poorly executed excavation undertaken over 20 years ago, the results of which may never have seen light of day were it not for their recent paper. Morwood and Tresize make it clear to the reader that uncertainties remain concerning the provenance of the lost axe and their broader discussion of the axe's implications should surely be read in the context of 'if' the axe indeed is of Pleistocene origin. It is only by discerned reading and testing of ideas that the line can be drawn between ' fact' and 'false fact' (although I think the line between them is finer than Sutton implies). The establishment of a 'fact' has to be argued at every level of information presentation from the statement that the axe once lay in situ in the gravelly deposits near bedrock at Sandy Creek 1, to the view that the item was in 'fact' an axe, to the dating of that level to over 30,000 years BP, and so on. For many of these levels of data presentation, it is often assumed that the reader is able to assess for him/herself whether or not the purported 'fact' contains enough information to withstand discerned testing (e.g. I accept that the item is indeed an axe/hatchet as defined by convention). In other cases, lack of sufficient data (other 'facts') precludes us from accepting other presented information (e.g. lack of adequate stratigraphic control in the original excavations have created a significant amount of doubt over the authenticity of a Pleistocene context for the axe). Morwood and Tresize's paper, it is felt, is no different from many other archaeological papers in that data is presented and theories are formulated. It is up to the reader to determine whether or not the data is of sufficient rigidity to warrant acceptance of ensuing theories (as is the case with other archaeological publications).