Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (Honours)


School of Earth & Environmental Sciences


Katherine Szabó


The role of stone tool production has long been used as a proxy for cognitive development in early human cultures. In the context of South‐east Asia (SEA) and Australia a lack of ‘advanced’ examples of lithic technologies seen elsewhere in the world has led to the labeling of SEA and Australian cultures as simple and undeveloped. Arguments have been raised in an attempt to refute this claim, including the replacement of stone as a medium for artefact production with shell.

The differentiation between cultural and taphonomic modification in shell has been problematic, due largely to a lack of understanding of taphonomy the morphologies different species of shell on a micro scale and subsequently the fracture mechanics of molluscan shell under specific forces. The identification of artefactual shell specimens is sometimes based on little more than a hunch.

This project attempts to determine the difference between the resulting fracture patterns of cultural and taphonomic damage using high and low powered microscopy. The resulting fracture patterns from use‐wear experimentation was compared to controlled fracture experimentation using low powered light microscopy and high powered scanning electron microscopy. The results show a variety of fracture patterns as well as a distinct difference in fracture patterns between the two sets of experiments. When these results are then compared to archaeological specimens from Golo cave in Gebe Island, a previously excavated site in the Maluku island group in Indonesia, similar fracture patterns are observed indicating the presence of culturally modified shell in the Golo Cave assemblage.

This project highlights the significance of micro scale analysis in the identification of shell artefacts as well as providing insight into the differing forms of mechanical failure in molluscan shell as well as depicting the suitability of shell as a medium for artefactual use



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.