Aboriginal people recycle modern rubbish

This resource is part of the Museum Snapshot collection - a collection of smaller resources perfect for starters, plenaries or spare moments to explore something fascinating.

These glass spearheads were made in the 19th Century by an Australian Aboriginal craftsman. The glass they are made from would not have been made by the same person; the skills, techniques and machinery were not available to this community. Instead, they gathered unwanted glass used for power lines on telegraph poles and domestic objects and 'knapped' them into the desired shape. This was the same technique used in prehistoric times on flint and stone; chipping off flakes to leave a sharp edge to make tools for food preparation, hunting and cleaning skins. If you look at the picture you can see the shape of the glass flakes that have been removed.

At this time in Western Europe the Industrial Revolution was making use of ever more advanced technology to forge steel, weave fabric, and fire glass using fewer workers and vast amounts of fuel. For many years this was regarded as a good thing and objects made in Britain were exported all over the world. Now we question whether we have lost our relationship to the natural world and worry about the amount of fuel and natural resources we consume. The Aboriginal people clothed, fed and sheltered themselves just using what was around them. They recycled and hardly disturbed the natural world.  

Young person's response to this object

This object is almost a bridge between the new and the old. It is evidence of one of the first times when prehistoric objects and technology first met.  Sophia Chang

Discussion Ideas:

  • If someone living in Britain wanted to exist using only discarded materials or objects or what they found in nature, what could they use to make:
  1. A shelter
  2. Blankets
  3. Shoes 
  4. Food  
You could think also about how they might actually find these things without using money (robbery is not an option!) 
  • Modern technology helps us make glass for hundreds of uses. Float glass was made by floating molten glass onto molten tin. It was only discovered in the 1950s. It meant that very large sheets of glass could be made comparatively cheaply. How do you think this altered the way our cities were built?

Activity Ideas:

  • Find out which ancient cultures made glass – you may be surprised how long ago it was. This link to Anglo-Saxon York will help.
  • Make a list of any glass objects that you notice in a day. Try to think why glass was used for each object and add that to each item. Use this list of glass's qualities to help you write your list.

  1. Glass can be recycled indefinitely
  2. Glass can be sterilized, pasteurized or used in a microwave
  3. Glass will not flavour food
  4. Glass can be melted into a thick layer used for building bricks or the thinnest layer used for fibre-optic technology
  5. Glass can be combined with another material to become less fragile e.g. fiberglass canoes
  6. Glass is made from sand, soda ash and lime. These common materials can usually be found locally. 
Australian aborigine glass spearhead
Detail of an Australian aborigine glass spearhead