Volume 52 1943 > Volume 52, No. 4 > The term "unfinished" as applied to adzes, by H. S. McCully, p 204-206
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- 204

IN Science from an Easy Chair Sir Ray Lankester in an article on “The Most Ancient Men” explained the terms Palaeolithic and Neolithic as follows:—

“The later or newer fringe of the Stone Age is called the Neolithic or Newer Stone Age, or Age of Polished Stone because the men of that period polished their stone implements after chipping them into shape. That which we dimly see beyond is the Palaeolithic or older period of ‘stone-weaponed’ humanity when polishing was unknown.”

Taken literally this quotation implies that the ground edge superseded the chipped edge. In New Zealand adzes of all types are present conforming to Palaeolithic and Neolithic respectively, if edge type and body finish are the deciding factors.

Adzes not conforming to Neolithic style, that is ground body and edge, are referred to often as “unfinished”, implying that for one reason or another the work was not completed.

If this orthodox view is accepted the term meets the case, but in the writer's opinion the terms Palaeolithic and Neolithic have no significance in New Zealand other than to denote tools chipped, tools ground, and divisions between. The Maori mastery over the material was complete for all his needs, and a reason for the presence of the large number of tools bearing chipped edges can be satisfactorily explained in no other way than that they served some purpose for which the ground edge was not necessary or suitable — the most important factor, edge-maintenance.

Leaving out greenstone, which could be fashioned and edged by grinding only, other materials must be investigated. The Maori had access to abundance of good flaking-material and from a water-worn boulder of favourable shape a tool for use as an adze was made at a single blow — the edge as sharp as any which could be made by grinding. For a full understanding of edge-types the crude or temporary class of adzes offers opportunity for the study of parent forms and, to some extent, body-finish.

Body-finish is of two kinds, first, that serving a useful purpose, second, no purpose other than embellishment so far recognized.

Pitting. Adzes are found in considerable numbers the bodies of which are pitted, suggesting the use of a pointed hammer or punch. The edges of these adzes are ground, but there is no grinding whatever on the body of the tool.

Fine close pitting of equal depth is a style of surface-finish seen on tools originally water-worn boulders selected on account of their favourable shape and level surface.

In some cases pitting looks more like camouflage than serving a useful purpose. On one specimen—a club weighing nine pounds—part of the original surface—a line down the centre—has been left untouched, while on the other side are raised lines like those seen on canoe-paddles, the whole suggesting the embellishment of a tool of mean origin.

- 205

Pitting is not confined to water-worn surfaces, and if for decorative effect should be found elsewhere as on adzes pitted on parts only.

Grinding the face and sides of an adze served another purpose than embellishment—it provided a uniform surface to work back on in edge-renewal by grinding.

Grinding the back of the tool did not serve any useful purpose— on some adzes token-grinding only is apparent, on others, no grinding whatever. The scars on the back of chipped adzes bearing chisel-edges are coarser than those on the face and sides. That grinding the face and sides of an adze facilitated edge-renewal there cannot be any doubt, and the finer chipping on the face and sides of the chipped adze served the same purpose, each after its own fashion.

There was nothing to be gained by grinding the face and sides of a tool for the accommodation of a chipped edge.

Adzes in greenstone have been found, the bodies and edges of which were originally ground and later, chipped.

This is regarded by the writer as evidence of edge-interchange-ability.

A gouge-edge ground on the face and chipped on the back is a compromise—half-ground, half-chipped, a ground-chipped edge. In a gouge the sides are included in the edge.

On crude (or temporary) adzes edges are found skewed to the right, others to the left on different bodies. This multiplicity of tools was overcome by the rotary adze of New Guinea, the blade of which could be set at any angle.

The chipped skew-edge may be regarded as the forerunner of the rotary adze with ground edge.


The term “unfinished” as applied to adzes which are not completely ground—body and edge—implies intention to complete—a very difficult thing to substantiate as it limits edge-type.

As greenstone was worked by sawing and grinding only, other material which flaked readily should indicate:—firstly, where grinding was advantageous; secondly, grinding and chipping combined; thirdly, edges formed by chipping only; fourthly, work suggesting embellishment.

Briefly, grinding the face and sides of a tool provided a smooth regular surface to work back on in edge-renewal. Grinding the back served no useful purpose, but token-grinding, insufficient to remove large flake-scars is present on many adzes the face and sides of which are well ground.

The rounded edge of the gouge incorporates the sides of the chisel-like type of edge.

When a gouge-edge is ground on the face only and the edge renewed by chipping, to apply the term “unfinished” is to admit superficial examination only, overlooking a principle of edge-construction adopted for edge-renewal in a certain manner.

The edge formed by chipping only, served its purpose, and it would be as reasonable to regard the chipped edges of local tools elsewhere called picks, rostro-carinates (from their shape and neglect of edge type) as “unfinished” as to apply the term to massive tools resembling adzes some of which are as much as eighteen inches in length with edges four-five inches wide.

- 206

If all edges were ground it could be accepted that the ground edge superseded the chipped edge but when practically every principle of tool-edge construction from the eoliths of Benjamin Harrison to fine examples of adzes in greenstone are found associated, the continued use of the term “unfinished” is the responsibility of those who use it.

Pitting may, it is suggested, be regarded as a style of surface finish. When it takes the place of a smooth water-worn surface without any recognizable advantage, embellishment is a natural conclusion. If the whole body of an adze is pitted, pitting on parts only, of other adzes, may reasonably be regarded as token-pitting in the same sense as token-grinding.