by Dr. Chris Ballard, Australian National University

Dr. Chris Ballard, ANU
Dr. Chris Ballard is an Associate Professor at Australian National University. He is Senior Fellow of the School of Culture, History & Language, School of Culture, History & Language.

His current interests revolve around indigenous Melanesian historicities – their transformation through cross-cultural encounters; their representation through various media, including film and fiction; and their articulation with contemporary challenges such as land reform, large natural resource projects, and cultural heritage management planning. He is also engaged, together with Bronwen Douglas, in an ARC Discovery Project on “European Naturalists and the Constitution of Human Difference in Oceania”. Publications under preparation include an edited collection on the history of racial science in Oceania, and a monograph on violence and first contact in the New Guinea Highlands.

This extract briefly reviews the available archaeological material from the Tari region and its immediate surrounds.


The Tari region is currently the richest source of megafaunal remains in New Guinea. An earlier discovery of the holotype of the zygomaturine diprotodontid Hulitherium tomasettii at the Pureni mission airstrip (LAC) in the Haeapugua basin (Williams et al. 1972, Flannery and Plane 1986) was matched on the eastern side of the basin by the discovery in 1987 of a Hulitherium mandible at the LOB site. In the course of my fieldwork, the LOB site was excavated without further remains being uncovered, but specimens of Protemnodon tumbuna, previously known only from fragments at the Nombe rock-shelter site in Simbu Province (Flannery, Mountain and Aplin 1983), were excavated from the nearby LOG and LOK sites (Appendix ClO); further Protemnodon material was also recovered from a road cutting near Koroba (LLA) and similar discoveries of large bones have been reported in the course of garden activity along the Dalipugua and Mogoropugua swamp margins (LOR, LOS). Together with material recovered recently from the spoil of alluvial mining operations at Mt Kare (QGC), these new finds have all been formally described by James Menzies (Menzies and Ballard 1994). Although the Pureni megafaunal material is credited with an age of 38 000 BP on the basis of a radiocarbon date (Williams et al. 1972), this now appears to be a considerable underestimate (Haberle 1993; see Chapter C3); as yet no reliable dates have been determined for any of these finds, nor is there any suggestion of human association, though this has been demonstrated elsewhere in the Highlands region at Nombe rock-shelter (Flannery, Mountain and Aplin 1983).


Archaeological survey in the Highlands region has traditionally focused upon the identification of potential cave and rock-shelter sites as a means of establishing preliminary chronological “control” over a region (e.g. White 1972). The limited value of such an approach in the reconstruction of broader patterns of land use and their social contexts is discussed in Section A2.3; there is a role, however, for the deeper chronological frameworks supplied by cave deposits, and potential sites were recorded and, in some cases, briefly tested. As the Tari region limestones are relatively young and well-protected, cave development is not particularly advanced. However, cave formation is progressively more pronounced towards the west of the region, with more caves found in the Koroba and Lebani areas than around Tari (Dyke n.d.), including spectacular multilevel phreatic caves along the southern fall of the Muller Range (James 1974, ATEA 78 1980). Thus, the most promising cave sites all lie to the west of Haeapugua, including the Lake Kopiago sites (LAJ, LAK, LAL, LAM, LAN, LAO) explored by White (1974), the Waiya Egeanda cave (LKP) in the Nagia river gorge (Landsberg and Gillieson 1979, Dyke n.d.) and Yurika Egeanda (LSS) in the headwaters of the Nagia river catchment (Dyke n.d.).

White tested the deposits of most of the Kopiago area caves that he visited but the deepest of his test pits yielded only 50 cm of deposit and no samples were submitted for dating. The only western cave site tested in the course of my fieldwork was the site of Waya Egeanda (LOQ) at 2360 min the Lebani basin. A pit dug at the cave entrance exposed an apparently shallow cultural deposit of only 35 cm, though the possibility that the basal sterile yellow soil caps further cultural deposit needs to be explored. Samples from the test pit returned two radiocarbon dates that were apparently inverted (Appendix ClO); I suggest that the older date of 1230 ± 180 BP (1420 (1160) 770 cal BP) (ANU-8808) is valid for the lowest unit of the known cultural deposit. As occupation as early as 5440 BP (ANU-1015) has been demonstrated for cave sites at altitudes of up to 4000 m elsewhere in New Guinea (Hope and Hope 1976), the Waya Egeanda date is unlikely to represent early use or occupation, even of the high altitude Lebani basin, though it is currently the earliest archaeological date for occupation of the western Huli and Duna areas.

At Haeapugua, marginal overhangs along the length of Lagale Mandi ridge serve occasionally as sleeping spots for hunters and watchful pig owners, or as refuges for family groups and pigs during wars or police raids. They are also favoured as repositories for both cranial and post-cranial remains of ancestors which are coated in red ochre and, in the case of skulls, painted with specific designs. The most promising of these overhangs, the shelter of Embo Egeanda (LOL) in Wangane sub-clan land in Tani Taibaanda parish, provides a 14 m2 floor area and is still used as a night shelter but also served, until very recently, as an ossuary. A small trench, 135 cm in length and 50 cm wide, was excavated to a maximum depth of 40 cm, but yielded only 25 cm of cultural deposit, of which only the lower 10 cm was fully consolidated. An ash sample from the upper layer of this consolidated unit returned a date of 610 ± 130 BP (780
(630,610,560) 420 cal BP) (ANU-8307), implying a date earlier than this for initial use of the shelter. Fragmentary human remains, largely cranial, mandibular and dental, and fragments of red ochre and cowrie shell were found through the full depth of the site, suggesting continuity both in the function of the shelter as an ossuary and also in the nature of the materials, ochre and cowrie, used in association with mortuary rituals at contact. The promise of much deeper deposits in the vicinity of Haeapugua, though not immediately bordering or overlooking the basin floor, is contained in the limestone hills between the Haeapugua and Yaluba basins and at the cave of Tamoli Egeanda (LNH), situated in a small doline in the hills in the southeastern corner of Tani Taibaanda parish, which was visited by Haberle but not by myself.

Rock Art

None of the figurative rock art common to most areas of the Highlands has been identified in the Tari region. Figurative rock art has been recorded in the Kopiago basin (LAJ), the Strickland river valley (LEZ, LFA, LFB, LOW, LOX, LOY), the Porgera valley (QCB) and in numerous sites to the east and southeast of Tari. Elsewhere in the Highlands region a close relationship between the distribution of barkcloth and figurative rock art is evident and it is interesting, in this light, to note that barkcloth was produced within or traded into each of these areas, but not within or to the Tari region. Despite fairly intensive surveys in the Tari region of cave, shelter and cliff locations by myself and others, the only painted rock art known is that associated with ritual performances, which consists of the heavy application of red ochre to large surfaces of cave walls and roofs and to cliff faces. The interior surfaces of the cave that constitutes the inner sanctum at the dindi pongone gebeanda site of Gelote (LDQ) are almost entirely coated in red ochre; other sites with this form of rock art include Guana Egeanda (LNG) in Munima parish in the Haeapugua basin and Embo Egeanda (LOL), where there are patches of red ochre smeared across the rear wall of the shelter. Another form of rock art is currently unique in New Guinea to the Tari region.

Digital fluting in what was formerly soft montmilch deposited on the walls of two cave sites, Kalate Egeanda (LOT) at Haeapugua and Waya Egeanda (LOQ) in the Lebani basin, is very similar in form to the parietal art described from cave sites in South Australia (Bednarik 1986). The panel of parietal art of Waya Egeanda is only 7.6 m from the mouth of the cave, but the larger panel at Kalate Egeanda is approximately 200 m from the entrance and was discovered only in the course of a recreational caving trip in 1989. A more detailed description of both art panels is provided in Appendix ClO; the more immediate relevance of these sites is the interesting possibility, based on purely formal similarities alone, that this art may match the Pleistocene antiquity proposed by Bednarik for the South Australian sites. The floor beneath the Kalate art panel had been undercut and there was no scope for excavation; the older date from the test pit at Waya Egeanda of 1420 (1160) 770 cal BP (ANU-8808) may provide a terminus post quern for the art there, but further excavation would be required to extinguish the possibility that deeper deposits at the site might contain earlier cultural levels. 1

Stone Artefacts

Collections of stone artefacts from the Tari region made both in the course of my fieldwork and previously by other researchers have revealed a range of material forms common across much of the Central Highlands region of Papua New Guinea. From amongst this range, five principal categories of stone artefact can be distinguished: large core tools (conventionally described as “waisted” and “tanged” blades), ground axe blades, stone carvings, other flaked stone artefacts and cooking stones. The nature of these five categories in the Tari region and their occurrence in collections deriving from surface surveys are briefly reviewed here.

Waisted and tanged blades

Waisted and tanged blades are a significant element in the stone tool industry described for New Guinea, with waisted blades constituting the bulk of the artefactual evidence at the earliest occupation site on the island, at Bobongara on the Huon Peninsula (Groube et al. 1986), and associated at numerous other sites with Pleistocene levels (White, Crook and Ruxton 1970, Bulmer 1977); a review by Bulmer (1977) of the form and distribution of these artefacts suggests that their use extended from the Pleistocene until approximately 6000 BP. Although no large core tools have been recovered from securely dated archaeological contexts in the Tari and adjacent regions, the presence of a number of large core tools, including a waisted blade retrieved from the disturbed Tongoma site (LAI) near Lake Kopiago, a tanged blade acquired in the Tari area (LLI) and another tanged blade recovered in the course of a surface survey at Waloanda (LSH) in the Haeapugua basin (see Appendix ClO: LSH site, for a fuller description of this artefact), is suggestive of a late Pleistocene or early Holocene antiquity for human occupation of the Tari-Kopiago region. 2

Ground axe blades

6000 BP is also the earliest date cited for ground axe or adze blades in New Guinea (White with O’Connell 1982:190), suggesting that the earlier core tool technology employed to produce large chopping tools was comprehensively replaced by a ground-blade technology. Stone axe blades were still widely employed in the Tari region until the late 1950s, when access to steel tools through the government station at Tari saw the rapid and near-complete abandonment of all stone tool use in the area. As the abandonment of stone tools essentially followed after the local establishment of a colonial presence, large numbers of stone axe blades were sold to administration officers, missionaries and tourists, rather than being discarded or retained. The stone blades employed by Huli fall into two broad categories: poor-quality blades produced from local stream sources and much finer, though often smaller blades imported from quarry sources to the east and north-west (Ballard 1994). Table C4 lists the different types of blade recognised by Huli, illustrating the significance for Huli of source, rather than physical form or size, in identifying blades; of particular interest is the fact that abandoned blades uncovered while digging gardens are reworked and identified as blades of “local origin” (dindi ayu), irrespective of their true origin.

Stone mortars and pestles and ritual stones

Stone mortars and pestles and stone carvings are almost ubiquitous within Highland New Guinea east of the Strickland river and are present in great numbers within the Tari region. Huli regard all of these artefacts as ritual items, classing them together with a wide variety of forms of natural stone as liru ritual stones. Table C5 lists the categories employed by Huli to identify different forms of ritual stone. The technological complex of stone mortars and pestles and other forms of carved stone is a persistent archaeological mystery in the New Guinea region, with no indication to date of a likely centre or centres for their manufacture and few finds from securely dated contexts with which to establish a chronology for their production and use. 3 Certainly the date of their production within or transfer into the Tari region exceeds the reach of Huli history, as Huli deny their status as human artefacts and have no sense of the presumed prior functions of such artefacts as mortars and pestles; in fact mortars (as ni tangi: “hats of the sun”) are linked not to pestles but rather to naturally occurring rounded cobbles (ni habane: “eggs of the sun”) traded from the Kopiago region. 4

Until the 1950s, liru were held largely within sacred liruanda or gebeanda enclosures, where they were focus of a wide range of performances in which the stones would be coated with red ochre and covered with pig grease or blood. The modem recovery of liru in the course of gardening activity almost invariably serves to identify the presence of former ritual sites; the numbers of liru in these sites can be gauged from a recent incident at Halere, a former gebeanda site in Dobani parish at Haeapugua, where the landowner filled three large coffee sacks with liru cleared from a single garden block, which he then proceeded to reduce to rubble for use as cooking stones.

Flaked stone tools

Huli flaked stone tool technology is similar to that described for the neighbouring Duna (White and Dibble 1986, White, Modjeska and Hipuya 1977, White and Thomas 1972) and western Mendi-speakers (Bartlett 1964, Sillitoe 1988), reflected in the regional homogeneity of the terms for stone flake scrapers (Huli, Duna: are; west Mendi: are or aeray). The functions of are appear to have been limited principally to the production of arrow shafts, axe hafts and bow staves, the shredding of cane fibre, finer decorative carving on such objects as arrow shafts, the paring of bone and the drilling of shell. Like stone axes, flaked stone tools were largely abandoned during the 1950s, their functions assumed by glass and steel implements, though during my fieldwork period a number of men persisted in making and using flake scrapers which they preferred over steel or glass for the manufacture of bow staves and arrow shafts.

Raw material for the production of flaked stone artefacts is widely available in the form of chert cobbles. Certain stream beds with particularly high quantities of chert cobbles, identified as “quarry” sources, are present in each of the major basins. Modjeska (n.d.) and White (1974) have identified four such quarries amongst Duna­ speakers in the Yauwinena valley and a further two in the Upper Tumbudu valley. The highest of these, at Iba Yokona on Garua clan land, is also used by Huli-speakers. The Huli sources, five of which I visited, generally lie along the uplifted eastern margins of the basins where deeply incised stream channels provide a regular source of cobbles; this is certainly the case in the Lebani, Mogoropugua, Dalipugua and Haeapugua basins where, in broad terms, the larger the channel, the deeper its incision into the ridgeline and the greater the supply of cobbles. Little value is placed on these sources, and access to cobbles is and was formerly freely available to or through any individuals with ties of kinship or friendship to residents of the parish in which the sources are located. On the eastern side of the Haeapugua basin, the major sources are both located in Dobani parish at Hundubalua, in the upper reaches of the Hagia stream and at Iba Arugu; the garden blocks on the fans at the bases of these streams are themselves important secondary sources of raw material.

Cooking stones

The fifth category of stone artefact, cooking stones (tQlg), reflects the Huli practice of cooking larger meals in steam ovens lined with pre-heated stones. A preference for certain types of stone and a particular size range is exercised. Though suitable material is widely available, the best cooking stones in the Haeapugua basin are said to come from Iba Darama in Hiwanda parish; like chert cobbles, these are made freely available to anyone prepared to carry them away.

(An extract from The Death of a Great Land: Ritual, History and Subsistence Revolution in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea; Australian National University, Canberra, 1995). Appendix C7.)

  1. Thus barkcloth caps worn by Tinali-speakers of the lower Strickland gorge are decorated with designs similar to those recorded at the Strickland valley rock art sites (Peter Dwyer and Monica Minnegal pers.comm.; see Appendix ClO: sites LOW, LOX, LOY). []
  2. This claim is further strengthened by recent finds of large core tools at a number of sites along the southern fall of the Highlands immediately to the southwest of the Tari region (Minnegal 1991, Swadling and Hope 1992). []
  3. White (White with O’Connell 1982:190-192) notes that mortar fragments have been recovered from levels dating between 3000 BP and 5000 BP at the Wanlek and NFB sites, and that their apparent absence from sites above 2000 m further implies a pre-Ipomoean antiquity. []
  4. A collection of liru donated to Father Paul Farkas at Dauli High School contains an illuminating sample of the sorts of materials deemed to be liru: an uncounted total collection includes 23 stone clubheads, 5 fossils, 37 ni habane and 10 stone carvings of various types, together with a large number of naturally occurring but unusually formed stones []