Archaeologists from Griffith University, the University of New England and the Balai Arkeologi Sulawesi Selatan have examined a collection of stone and bone tools made by the Toaleans, a group of hunter-gatherer people who lived on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi between 1,500 and 8,000 years ago.
“The Toaleans lived in southernmost Sulawesi around 1,500-8,000 years ago,” said lead author Yinika Perston, a Ph.D. student in the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University.
“During this time, they produced several distinctive small tools that have not been found elsewhere on the island, including the so-called Maros points, which were possibly used as arrowheads and have fine tooth-like serrations.”
“Previously, these tools have been fairly inconsistently or even incorrectly described yet have been used to build elaborate scenarios for human activities.”
“In our paper, we provide the most complete technological description of Toalean stone and bone tools yet,” she added.
“We describe exactly how they were made and outline new classification models for the most distinctive forms of stone and bone tools produced in that time.”
Known Toalean sites are largely concentrated in the caves of the limestone karst system that runs through the lowland plains of the Maros and Pangkajene dan Kepulauan (or Pangkep) regencies.
Among 1,739 Toalean tools found at the sites, Perston and her colleagues reclassified the small Maros point tools (averaging 25 mm long) as four different variants: the Maros point, Mallinrung point, Lompoa point and Pangkep point.
Working backwards to examine how the specialized tools were made, they looked closely at the marks or ‘scars’ where other pieces of stone had been removed and where these scars overlapped, to gain a clearer view of what order the pieces of stone were struck to make the tools, and how.
“There are theories that the points were used for arrowheads or for hunting fish, but we’re hoping that the next stage of research would be to look at the residue on the tools so we can find traces of what the Toaleans might have been using them for,” Perston said.
“We also described a new stone tool form, the sawlette, which are very similar to certain tool types from Europe, but this is clearly a case of cultural convergence — that is, unrelated peoples independently coming up with broadly similar traits or solutions.”
The team’s paper was published online in the journal PLoS ONE.
Y.L. Perston et al. 2021. A standardised classification scheme for the Mid-Holocene Toalean artefacts of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. PLoS ONE 16 (5): e0251138; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0251138