O’Connor’s team believes the crafted bone is more likely to be jewellery than a tool, based on comparisons with 19th and 20th-century sewing needles and ornaments made by Indigenous Australians. The artefact’s shape, ochre staining and wear patterns closely match modern nose bones.
Nose bones were commonly worn in Australia until recently, but their meaning differs between groups, Langley says. “I’ve met Indigenous Australians who remember their granddads wearing nose bones for special occasions,” she says. “In some groups, nose bones were only worn by elders, but in others, there were no restrictions, so all men and women could wear them to look more appealing.”
Story: Alice Klein | Photo: Michelle Langley, Australian National University