Teacher background information


Year 8 Science Content Description

Science Understanding

Earth and space sciences

Sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks contain minerals and are formed by processes that occur within Earth over a variety of timescales (ACSSU153 - Scootle )

  • exploring the traditional geological knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples that is used in the selection of different rock types for different purposes (OI.2, OI.5)

Traditionally, the mineral quartz and fine-grained quartz-rich rocks such as silcrete, chert and quartzite, as well as hard volcanic rocks such as basalt, were important resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Traditional geological knowledge enabled suitable rock types to be identified, quarried or mined, and worked into a variety of sophisticated tools. Respective Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups have their own geological terminology.

This elaboration provides an opportunity for students to explore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ traditional knowledge and use of different rock types. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups across Australia produced a variety of stone tools. Stone tools, and the debris formed during the production process are collectively classified by archaeologists as stone artefacts. These artefacts are the most common form of archaeological evidence found in Australia and continue to be used to confirm the antiquity of human presence in Australia. Traditionally, stone tools have been of vital importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They have been essential in hunting and gathering food and in its preparation and processing. Stone tools have also been used to make new stone and wooden implements and ceremonial objects.  

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a deep understanding of the properties of various minerals and use different rock types for different applications. Through direct observation and through trial and error, First Nations’ Australians recognised that igneous rocks such as basalt or volcanic greenstone, tend to be very hard minerals with high tensile strength which make them ideal materials for stone axes.  

More commonly, sedimentary rocks such as sandstone, or metamorphic rocks such as quartzite, were preferred to manufacture grindstones and millstones for other food sources, as they provided a more abrasive surface. However, the Bama people of northern Queensland chose an unlikely stone type, metamorphic slate, as a grindstone in processing toxic cycad kernels for producing an edible source of carbohydrates. As slate has a smooth and generally non-abrasive surface that is not particularly suitable for grinding food, cross-cuts were incised into the stone to achieve the intended effect. It is believed that this rock type was chosen for its mildly hydrophobic properties. The Bama people understood that this property of metamorphic slate prevents the accumulation of toxins in the grinding tool.  

Other recorded uses of sedimentary rocks by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples include naturally occurring clay earth pigment ochre, which is a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand. For thousands of years, in many regions throughout Australia, red ochre has been the most highly prized and important pigment for use in cosmetics, body and artefact decoration and rock painting.  

Historically, the distribution and location of valuable rock deposits were well known to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and played a significant role for access and trade between groups. For example, ochre and stone of one sort or another can be found almost anywhere on the Australian continent. However, the ochre and stone deposits that were, and continue to be, exploited by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were of particularly high quality and traded over large distances. In the case of ochre, the most highly valued properties relate to its refractive qualities that create the shimmering effect under fire light, and its low acidity which does not irritate the skin. The optical properties of ochre are still highly sought after in contemporary industries, such as the cosmetic industry, for their exact same use. 

After identifying valuable rock types and their locations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples developed sophisticated extraction techniques for these important resources. The two most common of these techniques are quarrying and mining. There are several hundred recorded Aboriginal mineral and rock extraction sites in eastern Australia alone. While many of these sites are open cut, some, such as that at Wilgie Mia in Western Australia, provide examples of extensive and deep underground mining. Wilgie Mia is known as the world’s oldest continuous mining operation.  

This elaboration will assist students in gaining an understanding of sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rock types. By learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples traditional geological knowledge, students gain an appreciation of the antiquity and sophistication of this knowledge. They also gain a deeper understanding of how Australia’s First Nations peoples exploited the useful properties of rock and understood the distribution of valuable rock types and sites. Students gain an insight of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples developed extraction techniques and how First Nations’ geological knowledge has contributed to contemporary society, for example, in the production and exportation of iron oxide pigments. 

In the construction of this teacher background information, a list of consulted works has been generated. The consulted works are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. To access this information, please read and acknowledge the following important information:

Please note that some of the sources listed in the consulted works may contain material that is considered culturally offensive or inappropriate. The consulted works are not provided or recommended as classroom resources.

I have read and confirm my awareness that the consulted works may contain offensive material and are not provided or recommended by ACARA as classroom resources.

The following sources were consulted in the construction of this teacher background information. They are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. It is important that educators recognise that despite written records being incredibly useful, they can also be problematic as they are often based on non-Indigenous interpretations of observations and records of First Nations Peoples’ behaviours, actions, comments and traditions. Such interpretations privilege western paradigms of non-First Nations authors and include, at times, attitudes and language of the past. These sources often lack the viewpoints of the people they discuss and can contain ideas based on outdated scientific theories. Furthermore, although the sources are in the public domain, they may contain cultural breaches and cause offence to the Peoples concerned. With careful selection, evaluation and community consultation, the consulted works may provide teachers with further support and reference materials that could be culturally audited, refined and adapted to construct culturally appropriate teaching and learning materials. The ability to select and evaluate appropriate resources is an essential cultural capability skill for educators.

Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania (2017). What are Aboriginal stone artefacts? Retrieved from https://www.aboriginalheritage.tas.gov.au/cultural-heritage/aboriginal-stone-artefacts

Anderson, C. (1983). Aborigines and tin mining in North Queensland: A case study in the anthropology of contact history. Mankind, 13(6), 473-498. doi:10.1111/j.1835-9310.1983.tb00722.x

Australian Aboriginal Mining Company Pty. Ltd. (2017). The company. Retrieved from https://aaminingcorp.com.au/the-company/

Australian Academy of Science. (2016). Iron oxide-copper-gold and Kiruna-type Magnetite-apatite deposits. Retrieved from https://www.science.org.au/news-and-events/events/iron-oxide-copper-gold-and-kiruna-type-magnetite-apatite-deposits

Australian Government, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. (2007). National Heritage List: Mount William Stone Hatchet Quarry (File no. 2/06/078/0002). Retrieved from https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/pages/bcdce815-51b9-4758-bce1-8ce1cbe19f63/files/mt-william.rtf

Buck, B. A. (1982). Ancient Technology in contemporary surgery. Western Journal of Medicine, 136(3), 265-269.

Clarke, J. (1976). Two Aboriginal rock art pigments from Western Australia: Their properties, use and durability. Studies in Conservation, 21, 134-142.

Flenniken, J. J., & White, J. P. (1986). Australian flaked stone tools: A technological perspective. Records of the Australian Museum, 36(3), 131-151.

Flood, J. (1983). Archaeology of the dreamtime: The story of prehistoric Australia and its people. Sydney: Collins.

Hill, E. (1932). Aboriginal women yandying tin, while other women and children look on (Western Australia) [Image]. Ernestine Hill Collection, UQFL18, Box 32, Folder 6, item 18/2276. Queensland: University of Queensland.

Hiscock, P., O’Connor, S., Balme, J., & Maloney, T. (2016). World’s earliest ground-edge axe production coincides with human colonisation of Australia. Australian Archaeology, 82(1), 2-11. doi:10.1080/03122417.2016.1164379

Jones, O., & Selinger, B. (2017). The chemistry of cosmetics. Retrieved from https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/chemistry-cosmetics

Martin, C., & Mackenzie, E. (2011). Stone artefacts fact sheet. South Brisbane: The State of Queensland (Queensland Museum).

McNiven, I. J. (2015). Enmity and amity: Reconsidering stone-headed club (gabagaba) procurement and trade in Torres Strait. Oceania, 69(2), 94-115. doi:10.1002/j.1834-4461.1998.tb02697.x

Museums Victoria Collections. (2018). Mineral sample, Adnyamathanha, Parachilna, Spencer, South Australia, Australia (Item X 84313). Retrieved from https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/229755

New South Wales Department of Primary Industries. (n.d.). Iron oxide pigments. In Industrial mineral factsheets. Retrieved from https://www.resourcesandgeoscience.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/237849/Ironoxide.pdf.

New South Wales Department of Primary Industries. (2007). Mining by Aborigines: Australia's first miners. Primefacts, 572.

Noetling, F. (1909). Notes on the names given to minerals and rocks by the Aborigines of Tasmania. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 103-122.

Office of the Aboriginal Affairs Victoria. (2008). Aboriginal flaked stone tools [Mini poster 4]. Retrieved from https://w.www.vic.gov.au/system/user_files/Documents/av/StoneTools.pdf.

Read, J., & Coppin, P. (1999). Kangkushot: The life of Nyamal lawman. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Ross, A., Anderson, B., & Campbell, C. (2003). Gunumbah: Archaeological and Aboriginal meanings at a quarry site on Moreton Island, southeast Queensland. Australian Archaeology, 57, 75-81.

Shnukal, A. (2008). Wolfram mining and the Christian co-operative movement. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum, Culture, 4(2), 225-256.

Smyth, R. B. (1878). The Aborigines of Victoria: With notes relating to the habits of the natives of other parts of Australia and Tasmania. Melbourne: J. Ferres, Government Printer.

State of New South Wales and Office of Environment and Heritage. (2013). Aboriginal cultural heritage: Stone tools. Retrieved from https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nswcultureheritage/StoneTools.htm

Sullivan, C. J. (1944). Geological report on the Rumbalara ochre deposits (Record 1944/17, Plans Nos. 1050-1052). Australia: Department of Supply and Shipping.