Australia: The Land Where Time Began
Aboriginal History of Australia
Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for at least 60,000 years, arriving by boat from south Asia at about that time, or possibly earlier. By 35,000 BP to 25,000 BP ancestral Aborigines had occupied all major environmental zones of Sahul (Greater Australia), from the large islands off the northeastern coast of Papua New Guinea in the equatorial region, to the southernmost part of Tasmania. The only exceptions appear to have been the north Queensland rainforest, the dunefield deserts of the arid zone, and small offshore islands, where evidence of regular or permanent occupation dates from the mid- to late Holocene (Habgood & Franklin, 2008).
At the time of the arrival of Europeans in Australia it was declared an unoccupied land, as the Aborigines didn't practice agriculture, so the colonists could take over without even consulting the locals.
The Aborigines were believed by some of those Europeans to be at best, like children, who needed to be protected from themselves as well as everyone else. Others regarded them as sub-human, so there was no problem treating them as though they were animals, especially when colonisation got under way and colonists wanted to take over their hunting territory for raising cattle and sheep, or farming. They were mostly tolerated as long as they didn't try to stop pastoralists taking their land, when they got in the way, they were often treated like animals that ate the colonists' crops or killed their cattle for food.
It has since been realised that they did indeed farm the land, even the parts that were unusable by the colonists, and for a very long time. It has been called fire-stick farming. During their long period of occupation they developed a system of burning off limited areas at certain times of the year, that encouraged the grass growth, that supported the animals they hunted. So while they lived by hunting, over large parts of the continent it was in effect managed hunting. In fact, they were possibly the first farmers. See The Biggest Estate on Earth.
It has been said of the Aborigines that 'they are an unchanging people in an unchanging land', implying that they didn't adapt so were somehow less worthy than the very adaptable people who took over their country. One of the world's best known, and highest regarded anthropologists, Claude Levi-Strauss, called them 'intellectual aristocrats' among early peoples. Once overlooked features of Aboriginal culture include sophisticated religion, art and social organisation, an egalitarian system of justice and decision-making, complex far-reaching trading networks. And they adapted to, and survived in, some of the worlds harshest environments for survival, that demonstrated that they did indeed adapt very well. Also, they arrived in Australia prior to the Last Glacial Maximum with its extreme drying of the Australian climate, that was already arid over much of the continent, adapting to the even more arid conditions, then readapted to the improved conditions following the end of the last glacial period.
Another way the Aborigines, especially in the driest areas of the inland, adapted to the very arid conditions was neighbouring groups often allowed each other to hunt in their territory when their neighbour's territory was more affected by drought, which occurs at unpredictable times and for varying lengths of time.
Archaeologists have also found that their stone tools have evolved over the time of their occupation. Like elsewhere in the world, the earliest known tools were heavy, simple tools, the later ones getting progressively smaller and finer, and eventually to more complex composite tools, that are mounted or hafted to a handle for better leverage. At the time of European colonisation most tools were of the composite, hafted type.
Dreamtime stories from all across northern Australia have various ancestral beings coming to the northern Australian coast from the north, in Arnhem Land the Gunwinggu people tell of an ancestral mother, Waramurungundji (Waramurungdju), who came across the sea from the north-west in the direction of Indonesia to the northern coast of Australia. Another dreamtime ancestor, Chivaree the seagull, paddled his canoe from the Torres Strait Islands to Sandy Beach on the west coast of Cape York. Here his canoe turned into stone. One feature all the Dreamtime origin stories have in common is the arrival from across the sea in canoes (Isaacs, 2005).
As with Homer's story of the Iliad, evidence being found by archaeologists, beginning with Heinrich Schliemann, backed up the oral history, previously thought to be totally mythical. Archaeological research in the Middle East has found some evidence for stories in the Old testament. Now archaeologists have come to the same conclusion as the Dreamtime stories, the Aborigines arrived in canoes along the north coast.
So it seems the Aboriginal oral history should be taken more seriously, at least as to the arrival in Australia.
Archaeology has shown from digs in the Northern Territory that human history in Australia began sometime before 50 000 years ago. The Aborigines obviously could not have evolved in Australia, as the earliest human ancestors were present only in Africa, long after the 2 continents had split from Gondwana, so there was no land connection between the continents during the time of their evolution.
It is known that early people were present in Southeast Asia for more than a million years, so the only thing stopping some from crossing to Australia was the ocean barrier, so they needed to develop some sort of sea-going craft before they could begin the migration, probably by island-hopping as the Polynesians did many thousands of years later when they spread across the islands of the Pacific, probably from southern China. The closest Australia came to connecting to Asia by land was at the height of the Last Ice Age, but even then there was still a gap of about 90 km separating the 2 continents by the ocean.
Since the studies of Alfred Russel Wallace in the 19th century it has been known that there is a distinct, dramatic transition between the faunal types to the north of the zone called Wallacia, and that of the southern side. The oriental faunal region, to the North of Wallacia, the no man's (or no animal's) land is separated from the Australian faunal region to the south of Wallacia. The boundaries of the oriental region coincide with the edge of the Asian continental shelf, and the Australian region coincides with the edge of the Australian continental shelf. It was precisely this gap between the faunal regions where the land between the 2 continents didn't join, even at the height of the Ice Age.
At the time of lowest sea level, - 60 m, at the height of the Ice Age, there would have been a chain of islands parallel to, and visible from, Timor, on the northern side of Wallacia, about 90 km from the Australian islands. Once they reached the first island they could have island-hopped to the Australian mainland, though they probably didn't realise they had reached another continent when they arrived.
There would also have been broken tongues of land jutting out from northwestern Australia and from Joseph Bonaparte Gulf on the east. Between the outer islands and the tongues of land there were stop-overs at Ashmore Reef, Cartier Islet and Maurice and Thoubadour Shoals.
The only other non-flying animals to reach Australia from the oriental faunal region were dingoes, which came across with the Aborigines, and rats and mice. The latter 2 could have travelled by rafts of tree trunks, etc. from the Asian area.
Cane1 (Mandu Mandu Rock Shelter)
According to Cane1 there were 23 small cone shell, Conus sp., that appear to have been selected for their beautiful colour and intricate patterning. All but 1 of these shells had been modified deliberately, 6 of them had holes made in their apex and their internal structure had been removed, the author1 speculating it may have been with a hardened stick, to hollow out the entire shell. The remaining shells had their apex removed and a hole was drilled through their centres to create small rings of shell. There is wear apparent that was consistent with them being hung on a threaded necklace that form a decorative display about 18 cm long. As with the Riwi and Carpenter's Gap sites, this site displays a ancient tradition of design and creativity, as well as a sense of self-respect and aesthetics that the author1 finds to be surprising for such ancient times. He1 suggests the existence of these decorative objects indicates that "the people who made and wore them outside common perception of ancient nomadic survival, and implies notions of choice, outlook and opportunity. The existence of these shell beads means that the people who wore them had taste, social aspirations, social structure and broader empathic human relationships (see also Hiscock, 2008, p. 25)".
Tasmania is the most southerly part of the world inhabited during the Ice Age. Glaciers were present on Tasmania's mountains and icebergs would have drifted past its coasts from the Antarctic, 1000 km further south. When sea level dropped as a result of glaciations a broad land bridge was exposed from early in the Ice Age. It is thought the land connection would have been available from about 60,000 BP, early in the Ice age, so was present when the first Aborigines arrived in northern Australia. It lasted until about 10,500 BP.
So far the earliest occupation site in Tasmania dates to a bit more than 35,000 BP. At least 4 other sites, Nunamira, ORS 7, Palewardia Walana Lanala, and Bone Cave, all have dates of 30,000 BP or more. No doubt there would have been occupation sites on the now-submerged land bridge that could be even older.
A feature of the Tasmanian cave occupation sites is that at the start of occupation there is light, intermittent use of the caves, especially during the period of the glacial maximum. Another constant feature of these sites throughout the Pleistocene is the constant exploitation of the red-necked wallaby and marrow extraction. They appear to have been red-necked wallaby specialists.
It has now been shown that by 35,000 BP Aborigines had developed a way of life that allowed them to live in the alpine environment of upland Tasmania. At the glacial maximum, about 18,000 BP, annual average temperatures were about 6 C lower then present, and glaciers in Tasmania extended to 800 m above sea level. The treeline was at least 235 m lower. The glacial Tasmanian climate has been equated with that of the Australian Alps at Mt Hotham, at 1862 m , of the present, but with shorter summers.
In the times prior to, and at the height of the last glaciation, the climate here was periglacial, sub Antarctic, but the river valleys were free of big trees which made movement through them much easier than when the rainforest became established by the end of the Pleistocene. It had previously been suggested that the intermittent nature of occupation in the highland caves of Tasmania was because they were used during summer hunting expeditions. If they were actually winter campsites, the occupants would be able to escape the worst of the freezing conditions prevailing in the area in winter, and it could explain why the vast majority of prey seemed to come from a single species, the red-necked rock wallaby, which would have been easily available to the hunters.
In some cave deposits emu eggshells have been found. These are available only in spring and early summer, so they could have varied their diet with the eggs while the weather was still cold, before the conditions warmed up enough to move out for the summer. It is possible they might have remained in the caves all year, but that would require them to be comparatively sedentary and mean they hunted only rock wallabies all the year.
The inhabitants of southwest Tasmania had a more highly structured economy than any other part of Australia during the Ice Age. The Pleistocene Tasmanian industry differs from that of other Australian sites of this time. Darwin glass was transported over 100 km, indicating a probable trading network. There were also differences between the east and west of Tasmania during Pleistocene times, showing the adaptability of these people to changing environments. Changes in technology and economy also occurred over time. In the lowest layers there are neither Darwin glass or thumbnail scrapers, and there is possibly an increase in mobility, and land use patterns changed during and after the glacial maximum.
The finds from Pleistocene sites in marginal climatic regions Tasmania show a highly complex society. Pigmented art shows the possibility of religious activity in the deep caves of Tasmania. Further indications of complex societies with their own distinctive archaeological signatures prior to the mid-Holocene when changes were thought to have occurred.
During the Pleistocene there was a wide variability between the assemblages in the southwest and the southeast of Tasmania. There were also cultural differences between the 2 areas. In the west temperate rainforest covered the fold structure southwest, with its impenetrable horizontal forest. In the east there were dry sclerophyll forests on the fault-structured geology. This pattern differs from the concept of an Australia-wide Pleistocene culture and technology that was uniform, simple and unchanging.
By the end of the glaciation the link with the mainland had been cut by rising sea levels. The inhabitants of southwest Tasmania thrived though 20,000 years.
Since the the Aborigines were first seen by European explorers their origins has been the subject of debate.
It has been established that there was a large amount of morphological variability among Pleistocene Australians, from the gracile to the robust at the other end of the continuum. It has been suggested that the morphological variability among the late Pleistocene populations of Australia resulted from genetic mutation, drift and selection, as the migrants moved into new environments.
The present Australian Aborigines are among the most morphologically diverse peoples in the world. Now that a lot of evidence from the Pleistocene in Australia has been studied it seems that diversity has been present a long time, in fact it was more pronounced in the past.
Joseph Birdsell and Norman Tindale proposed 3 migrations during the Pleistocene of Oceanic Negritos, Murrayians and Carpentarians. The Tasmanians were considered by them to be Oceanic Negritos, based mainly on their small stature and spiral hair. 12 Aboriginal tribes from the rainforests of north Queensland were also believed by Birdsell and Tindale to be of this type. Analysis of skeletons of these people failed to show any negrito components among the rainforest Aborigines. Genetic studies have shown that pygmy peoples are not racially distinct from other non-pygmy groups, but rather are more probably adaptations to their environment.
In Tasmania analysis of skeletal remains from 3 sites, King Island, West Point Midden and Mount Cameron West, show no differences between them and contemporary Pleistocene peoples in the mainland. Any differences between modern Tasmanian Aborigines and those on the mainland are now believed to have arisen during the 10,000 years of isolation from the mainland after the sea rose to cover the plains joining the island to the mainland.
Birdsell's Carpentarians are now thought to have resulted from mixing with non-Aboriginal peoples from the north. People from Indonesia, e.g., Macassan traders, had been trading with the Aborigines long before the arrival of Europeans in Australia.
There is still no general consensus among anthropologists on most features of Australian Aborigines, apart from 2 facts, they are Homo sapiens, and there was a great deal of variability among the Pleistocene populations. They are yet to explain large amount of cranial variation in Pleistocene populations, and the more archaic appearance of some early Australian Homo sapiens.
Prior to the discovery of the sites of ancient habitation around the Top End it had been postulated by a number of researchers that the first Aborigines to arrive in Australia would have landed at places like Arnhem Land, Cape York or the Kimberly region, based on the proximity of these places to New Guinea and the islands of Southeast Asia. All 3 regions have now yielded evidence of Pleistocene human occupation. Some of the sites are in excess of 30 000 years in age. What has surprised archaeologists was the finding of Pleistocene sites in extremely arid parts of the Pilbara, Central Australia and even as far south as the Nullarbor Plain.
It seems that by 25 000 years ago there was already a well-developed inland economy based on macropods and emu eggs in the Pilbara, and the Central Australian Ranges humans were present in the spinifex sand hills throughout the glacial maximum, the time of maximum dryness in the Australian inland.
Not bad for a people who were thought to be backward and unchangeable, coming from the wet tropics and adapting so well to the arid conditions that they were soon living in one of the harshest places on Earth, and at a time when the dryness would have been at its worst.
Changing to a settled way of life would have been difficult at best, as the climate over most of Australia is too dry and erratic for dependence on crops, and as is now known, Australia has the most impoverished soils in the world. A nomadic lifestyle was probably the best option,, as they could move around their territory, allowing other parts to recover before they returned.
At both Mushroom Rock and the 10 000-year-old layer at Early Man Shelter there were small rock fragments with grinding marks hinted at edge-grinding in the late Pleistocene in Cape York Peninsula. This find considerably extends the time of the introduction of edge-ground axes in the region and in the continent.
Ground-edge axes have been found in a number of Pleistocene layers sites in north Queensland, the Top End of the Northern Territory and in highland New guinea - kafiavana, Kiowa, Yuku, and Nombe, where a complete axe was found in a layer dated to 26 000-14 500 years. In Western Australia's Kimberly region, flakes showing signs of grinding were found in a 27 000 BP layer in Widgingarri 1, and the 18 000 year-old layer at Miriwun Shelter.
Sandy Creek Shelter 1
This cave is in the Laura region. The occupation sequence here go back 32 000 years. Buried rock engravings and many stone tools, including a ground-edge axe on the bedrock at the base of the 3 m sequence. The evidence from this site of Pleistocene age and in nearby Sandy Creek Shelter 2
The earliest evidence of occupation at this site was a stone-knapping floor of 26 small artefacts of crystalline quartz near the base of the rubble. It was associated with charcoal dating to 32 000 BP. Above this level there are few artefacts above this level until the occupation around 18 000 years ago.
The most important artefact from this site is the ground-edge axe. It was pink quartzite, 8.7 cm long, with a ground working edge, a slight waist and groove for hafting. it is very similar to ground-edge axes from Arnhem Land.
The cave is situated near Chillagoe. A long cultural sequence has been found here, occupation goes back more than 18 000 years. There are 2 patinanted geometric engravings, and a horsehoof core was found in the basment level, as well as a waisted tool, shells and wallaby bones. Burnt antbed or termite mound were found throughout the deposit, indicating that it was used as fuel up to near modern times.
It is situated in Lawn Hill Gorge area. Traces of occupation more than 17 000 years old have been found on the Barkly Tableland in north-western Queensland. Colless Creek Rock Shelter, is the only good rock shelter along 40 km of Colless Creek. It is a deep and well-sheltered. The area, north-west of Mt Isa. it has spectacular gorges, permanent rivers and waterholes with plenty of fish, shellfish, pandanus nuts and cycad palms.
The Colless Creek site is a very rich site, with an average density of 50 000 artefacts per cubic metre. There were 500 000 artefacts in the top cubic metre of the excavation. Occupation at Colless Creek goes back more than 17 550 BP - the oldest daye from shells on the site.
The conditions in the area of the site were considerably drier over the last 18 000 years than during the preceding phase. Human occupation is thought to extend back to about 30 000 years BP, and possibly much further.
A large semicircular rock shelter in a weathered sandstone outcrop. The dark sandy floor, with stone artefacts on the surface, as well as ochre. It is situated within the Delamere Plains and Benches, on a sandy plain with hills to the north and south. The rock of the shelter is part of the Antrim Plateau Volcanics. More than 48 rock art sites have been found in the outcrops in this area. It is cklose to Yingalarri waterhole, the largest permanant waterhole i the region, an is the last in a series of permanent waterholes in the gorges along Price Creek. Past this point to the east the country becomes open and drier with black.
The basal level of this site was dated to 6800 +/- 270 by radiocarbon.
The Kimberley region in northern western Australia is one of the places where it had been thought Aborigines could have landed in Australia. At present the Kimberley Escarpment forms the rugged coastline of the areas, but if they arrived 50 000-60 000 years ago they would have landed several hundred kilometres from the present coast on the continental shelf. It would probably have been above the sea, but it is not certain if the land was grassland, savanna woodland or muddy mangroves. As the continental shelf is now submerged any occupation sites on the shelf would also be beneath the sea.
This rugged coastline is broken in a number of places by rivers flowing to the sea and in some places by plains. The Ord Valley is one of these. 2 occupation sites have been found in the Ord Valley, at least 1 of which is of Pleistocene age. In the Miriwun Rock Shelter on the Ord River.
Small tools were found in the upper levels of the site. In the dark brown lower levels, from 18 000 to 3 000 years ago, a distinctive early assemblage was found. The find included thick, denticulate or notched flakes, core scrapers and small blades, pebble tools and quartzite fragments that could have been part of grindstones or anvils.
Among the artefacts of this site were 2 flakes from below the 18 000 year-old horizon. They had been struck from tektites, or Australites as they are known in Australia. 750 000 years ago a shower of tektites fell across Australasia. In Australia tektites are found in a swathe across the southern half of Australia, especially in Central Australia and southern inland parts of Western Australia.
One of the flakes was analysed and found to be from the Indochinite group, tektites from Indochina. This flake is the first of this type of tektite found in Australia. So there is the possibility, however remote, that this tiny flake was brought from Southeast Asia, as so far no unworked tektites of this kind have been found in Australia in association with occupation sites. The Miriwun tektite may be the first Asian artefact from the Ice Age period to be found in Australia.
There may be a long continuity of technological tradition in the Kimberley, in grooved, ground-edge axes and serrated flakes. The Kimberley serrated spear points are renowned for their fine crafting and their symmetry. They were made by the pressure-flaking technique, fine flakes are removed by use of wood or bone. Prior to European occupation fine-grained stone was used. This type of leaf-shaped, bifacially trimmed spear points has been used for at least 3000 years.
A feature of the Ord River sites is that organic material if often well preserved. The occupants of the Miriwun site hunted a wide variety of animals from the region. Among them were many eggshells of the pied or semi-palmeted goose (Anseranas semipalmata), this bird breeds in the wet season, so the site may have been a wet season camp from the Pleistocene to the european era.
The rock shelters at Widgingarri 1 and 2 north-east of Derby on the Kimberley coast, are believed to have been used from about 28 000 BP. At this time they would have been more than 100 km from the coast. Occupation apparently ceased at about 7500 BP. It is believed by some that the increasing aridity is the probable reason for the abandonment of the site.
Koolan Shelter 2, on a small offshore island, dates from at least 27 300 BP. The age of the first occupation of the site has been estimated to be about 30 000 BP. At this time there was relatively high sea level, which meant the sea would have been close to the shelter. The site shows a heavy dependence on seafood. Among them was the mangrove shellfish Geloina coaxans, very common at this site. Koolan Shelter 2 was abandoned by about 24 600 BP, probably as a result of increasing aridity, as the sea level dropped and the coast retreated about 220 km. The island became a peak in an inland range in the arid west Kimberley. People re-occupied the shelter about 10 400 BP, when the sea had returned, making the peak an island once more. The inhabitants seem to have followed the shore line as it moved towards the mainland and retreated again.
Recent excavation on the Monte Bello Islands, now 120 km off the present Pilbara coast, has found evidence of Pleistocene occupation. 3 limestone caves have been excavated on Campbell Island. Cultural material was found and a marine shell at the base of the deposit in Noala Cave gave an age of 27 220 BP. At this time in the Pleistocene when it was adjacent to the coast. The deposit show the occupants were hunting kangaroos and other mammals on the surrounding plain as well as fish.
Retouched stone artefacts were of materials like metamorphic rock that is not found on the island. between 8000 and 7500 BP the island was joined to the mainland by low sea levels. Soon after 7500 BP they appear to have been abandoned. They were uninhabited islands 50 km offshore by 6500 BP.
Unexpectedly, a number of occupation sites have been found on the Hamersley Plateau in the Pilbara. As part of the arid zone, it would have been even drier at the height of the Ice Age, when it would have been 500 km inland. The frirst was the Mt Newman Rock Shelter Orebody XXIX, overlooking the headwaters of the Fortescue River. Ash, charcoal and ochre were found at this site. 11 hearths were found, of these 1 was of the type typical of those used by modern Aborigines for baking animals. Most of the 400 artefacts found were simple flakes or re-touched pieces. 2 implement types were found - steep-edged scrapers and notched scrapers. Radiocarbon dates from the 1-metre deep excavation put it at more than 20 750 years old.
18 km to the northeast is Ethel Gorge, close to the east side of the Fortescue River, gave a date near its base of 26 300 BP. These are conservative dats for occupation, because neither excavation continued to bedrock or barren layers.
Both rock shelters were occasionally occupied before 20 000 years ago. The Fortescue River only flows after heavy rain and normally present along its upper reaches, and in the gorges in the Hamersley National Park. Some regard the Hamersley Ranges as a refuge area. At the present there is no evidence of continuity of occupation during the most recent glacial maximum, about 18 000-15 000 years BP.
A recent discovery was an occupation site at Shark Bay, an arid coastal area on Peron Peninsula - the most westerly part of the continent, 450 km south of Northwest Cape. This is an open site called Silver Dollar. In the lower occupation layer were found stone artefacts associated with many kangaroo and wallaby teeth and a lot of emu eggshell, as well as some fragments of baler shell. Dating of the eggshell and the bailer shell gave an age range of 18 000-25 000 for the lower artefacts. The site was about 100 km from the coast during this period. The camp was unoccupied between 18 000 and 6000 years ago. When it was again occupied the food remains were dominated by marine remains.
It seems likely the colonisation of Australia by Aborigines was around the coast and up the river systems, but they apparently adapted to the most arid parts of the continent at a much earlier time than has been thought likely. By the time of the arrival of Europeans the whole continent had been occupied by Aboriginal tribes.
Prior to 1987 there was no proof that central Australia had been occupied in the Pleistocene. With the excavation of Puritjarra Cave Rock Shelter, almost at the dead centre of the continent, it was shown that people had already occupied the site by 22 000 years ago. This is a very large rock shelter in hard red sandstone cliffs, 45 m long and 20 m high, with a shaded floor space of 400 sq m.
The Puritjarra site is close to the only permanent water in the Cleland Hills, near the eastern of the Western Desert, about 320 km west of Alice Springs. The area id made up of spinifex grassland and mulga woodlands around the central ranges. In an area with an average rainfall of less than 350 mm/year, the ranges act like an oasis, with permanent springs, waterholes, deep rock 'reservoirs' and soakages in creek beds. All the rivers of the area, such as the Finke, flow only after rain, or even after heavy rain, but there are usually some water holes and soakages along their otherwise dry beds.
There is a large array of rock art, stencils, paintings and Panaramitee-style engravings. This type of engraving is also at the nearby Thomas reservoir site. 11 sq m of the site were excavated. Charcoal provided 12 radiocarbon dates, and 6 TL dates from the sediments. The base of the lower level has a preliminary date of 30 000.
The site was first occupied for a short period well before 22 000 years ago. The first long period use began about 22 000 BP. This appearance of artefacts is marked by the presence of charcoal and 10 pieces of high-grade red and purple ochre, 60 stone flakes, including a single large steep-edged tool, and about 200 small pieces of flaking debris.
Between 22 000 and 13 000 years ago the shelter was used occasionally, only a few artefacts being added per millennium. The uppermost laye if formed of loose, gritty sand with cooking hearths, charcoal and flaked tools, many grindstones, ochre and emu eggshell. There are no grindstones in the Pleistocene layer. This spans 6000 years. It shows that in the last 1000 tears there was a large increase in occupation of the region.
The 22 000-year-old occupation level coincides with the onset of major aridity. This is probably the beginning of a pattern of land occupation where reliable water was of major concern. From 22 000 to 13 000 years ago there was repeated, light use of the site, probably related to the fact that this was the height of full glaciation. The repeated use of the Puritjarra site, as well as it location away from major corridors, indicates there may have been a resident population in this refuge area.
At least 2 caves in the far southwest of South Australia were being used before 30 000 years ago. Radiocarbon dates for Koonalda Cave shows it was occupied by 24 000 BP. Allen cave was occupied by 25 000 BP. TL dates for the occupation levels where carcoal didn't survive are 34 000 years. Preliminary optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) for Allen's Cave has a date of 34 000 +/- 7000 years 1 m above an artefact, so presumably the artefact is much older. Similar dates have been found at Koonalda Cave.
Koonalda Cave is a crater-like doline (limestone sinkhole) in the karst of the Nullarbor Plain. It was used as a flint mine, quarrying being carried out underground, often in places with no natural light, the resulting flint nodules being transported elsewhere for manufacture of tools. In the first dimly lit chamber of the cave, which was 100 m from the surface and 70 m below ground level, there were hearths, charcoal and mining residue. Later excavations found that flint mining had been practiced between 24 000 and 14 000 years ago.
A notable find in the cave was Pleistocene rock art, finger markings on the wall, 300 m from the entrance, where there was no natural light. There were 2 major attractions in this cave, reliable water and a plentiful supply of flint.
Allen's Cave is near Eucla, about 80 km west of Koonalda Cave. After the first occupation of the cave there was a break when the cave was apparently abandoned, between 17 500 and 15 000 years ago. This coincided with a period of increased aridity and the accompanying sealevel fall that cause the coast to retreat about 160 km further south. The Eucla-Koonalda region became a trreeless plain. The estimated average annual rain fall at this time was about 160-180 mm. Allen's Cave was mostly abandoned during this time. Between 22 000 and 15 000 BP there was intermittent use of Koonalda Cave. It assumed the people of the area moved south to follow the coastline, probably living on the exposed plain. The sea rose again about 12 000 years ago.
It has been established by archaeological evidence that by 30 000 years ago all major geographic areas, coastal and inland, had been occupied. During the phase when the inland lakes, such as Lake Mungo, were full, occupation took place in very arid regions, as long as water could be obtained, people moved in. Australia is the driest inhabited continent and the Western Desert is the driest part of the driest continent. Yet even here Aborigines managed to adapt to the conditions. If the dates from Puritjarra on the eastern edge of the Western Desert is included, it means there are now firm dates of that show that even this most inhospitable of places was populated before 30 000 BP.
Pleistocene sequences have been found at 2 sites in the Western Desert, Serpent's Glen Rockshelter, and Kulpi Mara. 2 others are expected to provide more evidence, Durba Springs and Kaalpi. At these sites it appears they were abandoned at time of peak glacial aridity, but reoccupied as soon as the peak had passed. his pattern of occupation is also seen at Noala Cave, dating to 30 000 BP and Mandu Mandu Rockshelter dating to 34 000 BP.
As the climate improved new sites were occupied, such as Cuckadoo 1 Shelter near Cloncurry, in semi-arid Queensland.
Penetration to the heart of the Strzelecki dunefields has been demonstrated by dates from hearth with mussel shell fragments and charcoal from the JSN site by 16 850 +/-190 BP. By 15 000 BP the Finders Ranges had been occupied at Hawker Lagoon. Stone artefacts associated with 2 hearths have been found in dune cores on the lower Cooper Creek in the Lake Eyre Basin that date to about 11500 years.
Between 9500 and 4000 BP, the shores of Lake Frome in the arid zone has been populated. Within the last 5000 years occupation of the Strzelecki and other dunefields took place.
Archaeological excavations of the 'barrier deserts' and adjacent dunefields - Rudall Lake, Balgo region, Simpson Desert, Lake Eyre Basin, Coongie Lakes and Cooper Basin has found hundreds of sites from the last 5000 years. Pleistocene sites in these areas haven't been found yet.
It was surprising to find early sites in the far southeast and southwest of Australia, but the dates for the more southern sites fit with a spread over the continent beginning about 60000 BP. Southwest Western Australia has 2 known sites dating between 40000 & 30000 BP. In the southeast site of similar age have been found at the Willandra Lakes and a more controversial early date near Sydney.
Some archaeologists doubt the early dates from Kakadu, this would make for a very unusual spread, from south to north, that seems barely believable, where could the colonists have come from to the south of Australia, and the alternative seems not much less likely, colonists travelling down the coast to land along the southern part of Australia.
An open-air campsite on an an ancient floodplain along the upper Swan River. It has been dated to 38000 BP. Among the artefacts found at this site were were flakes made from a distinctive chert contain fossils. The same chert has been found in a number of other Western Australian sites with ages in excess of 4600 BP, and the probable source of the chert was subsequently found in drill cores from the seabed off the coast, on the continental shelf that would have been dry land when the first people arrived in Australia. It appears to have been a toolmaking site.
This is a cave in the far southwest of Western Australia, 5 km from the present coast and 20 km north of Cape Leeuwin. At the time of low sea level it would have been about 25 km from the sea. Its single chamber has an earth floor that is covered by flowstone, a sheet of stone, about 20 cm thick, that occasionally form on the floors of limestone caves. The upper levels contained large numbers of bones from the Tasmanian devil, hence its name. It was originally excavated by palaeontologists looking for animal remains, as these are common in limestone caves. Once it was realised there were artefacts in the cave excavations were taken over by archaeologists. Possible artefacts and a human incisor were found. The artefact-containing lower levels have been dated to 33000 BP.
Bones of a wide range of animals were found, some charred, and in one case in an an intact hearth, indicating that it wasn't the kill of a predator. Some of the bones of giant kangaroos, Protemnodon & Sthenurus, had been cracked and a couple have possibly been used as tools. If this proves to be true it will be the first definite evidence from Australia that the early inhabitants hunted megafauna.
This is a large island, 150 by 50 km, that has been separate from the mainland for nearly 10000 years. For some unknown reason the mainland Aborigines call it the 'Island of the Dead'. On the island there is plenty of evidence of occupation in prehistoric times. It is separated from South Australia by Backstairs Passage. This body of water would be very difficult to cross in canoes. It is subject to strong currents, heavy tidal swells and steep breaking seas. The first evidence of Aboriginal habitation on Kangaroo Island was the discovery of hammer stones at Hawk's Nest near Murray's Lagoon in 1903. In 1930 more stone tools were discovered and excavation was proposed. It was based on the finds at Kangaroo Island that the first suggestion was made that colonisation by Aborigines might date fro the Pleistocene.
Fieldwork in the early 1930s near Murray's Lagoon, a land-locked freshwater lake, revealed some hammer stones and some massive pebble implements. Subsequent exploration found revealed the presence of 47 camp sites on the island, by 1958 the number had risen to 120. Hundreds of pebble choppers, horsehoof cores and hammer-stones. The tool industry was named the Kartan, after the name for the island among the mainland Ramindjeri tribe.
The Kartan industry is characterised by the massiveness of its core tools. The dominant implements are hammer-stones and pebble choppers. Hammer-flaking technique is used to get flakes from one side of a quartzite pebble. The result is usually oval-shaped and a sharp edge is produced by trimming the margin. Many of the pebble choppers were perfectly symmetrical, finely-made by what must have been highly skilled craftsmen with a strong aesthetic sense. Another characteristic of the Kangaroo Island tools is the large, heavy, horsehoof core, but there are not as many of them as there are of the pebble choppers.
The world's oldest ground-edge hammer-dressed axes, Australia's oldest grindstones and paint palette, and the earliest human occupation found so far in Australia.
TL dates from 2 rock shelter deposits suggest people arrived in northern Australia between 50 000 and 60 000 years ago. It seems the Kakadu area was uninhabited until 55 000 years ago.
Pleistocene ground-edge axes seem to be restricted to north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and to the extreme north of the continent. In the Holocene, ground-edge axes were the main chopping tool over most of mainland Australia, but not in Tasmania.
There are thousands of rock art sites throughout Australia, most of them in the north of the continent. The high interest in rock art is partly because many of the art sites are prehistoric origin, so are windows, if not clear windows, to prehistoric life. Some of the petroglyphs and hand stencils have been there since the Pleistocene, and some of the paintings may be as old.
George Grey was the first European to record the huge Wandjina figures of Western Australia, paintings of such quality and aesthetic accomplishment that he didn't believe they were the work of Aborigines. For over 100 years the Aborigines were not credited with the best of the art, the thinking being that they were simply too primitive to have accomplished such an artistic feat. The best of the art works were attributed to any people who someone thought might have passed by Australia, the lost tribes of Israel, Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Hindus and even LGM, visitors from outer space. In the 1970s Aboriginal art was finally recognised for what it was, aboriginal art of world quality.
See Aboriginal Art
The book Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe has a lot of instances of Aboriginal agriculture gathered from the journals of early explorers and other in the early days of European settlement in Australia.
|Author: M.H.Monroe Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Sources & Further reading|