Artefacts of stone are the most enduring relics that provide evidence for the existence of human activity in time and space. Tools, weapons, utensils and ornaments made from organic materials usually disappear from the archaeological record, and, consequently, the possibility of their existence may be ignored. The importance of artefacts made from organic materials such as bone, shell, teeth, fur, hair and skin in Australian Indigenous technology has tended to be minimised, as prehistorians concentrate on other aspects of their investigations. Early rock art styles, in both the Kimberley and Arnhem Land, record complex suites of material objects made of organic materials, the existence of which would not necessarily be inferred from examination of excavated materials.

This chapter seeks to examine the widespread use of bone, shell and teeth by Indigenous Australians as ornaments, articles of dress and items that reflect the aesthetic nature of their societies. Important archaeological finds made from these materials, many of which are unique, emphasise the need to view Australian societies and their material culture as creative and dynamic rather than conservative or static.

Note: unreferenced data relates to the author’s own research or observations.