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Aboriginal Settlement during the LGM at Brockman, Pilbara Region, Western Australia

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This paper describes the results and implications of recent excavations on the Hamersley Iron Brockman 4 tenement, near Tom Price, Western Australia. Results concentrate on two rock shelters with Aboriginal occupation starting at least 32,000 years ago and extending throughout the Last Glacial period. Preliminary observations are proposed concerning the nature of Aboriginal foraging patterns as displayed in the flaked stone and faunal records for the Brockman region.
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Abstract
This paper describes the results and implications of recent
excavations on the Hamersley Iron Brockman 4 tenement, near
Tom Price, Western Australia. Results concentrate on two rock
shelters with Aboriginal occupation starting at least 32,000 years
ago and extending throughout the Last Glacial period. Preliminary
observations are proposed concerning the nature of Aboriginal
foraging patterns as displayed in the flaked stone and faunal
records for the Brockman region.
There are two enduring research questions that have
dominated the archaeology of the Pilbara since research
commenced in the region some 30 years ago – antiquity and
continuity. The antiquity of the Pilbara continues to be
important in our developing understandings of the timing
and directionality of continental settlement. At the time
Steve Brown provided the first synthesis and review of
initial archaeological excavations for the Hamersley Plateau
(Brown 1987) the oldest radiocarbon date from an
archaeological site was 26,300 + 500 BP (SUA1510) for
Newman Rockshelter (P2055.2) (Brown 1987:22, citing
Troilett 1982). Despite 20 years of intensive archaeological
work (mostly consulting projects including over 50
excavations with more than 100 radiocarbon dates, see
Slack 2008), this antiquity has only recently been surpassed
with age estimates for excavations at Djadjiling at Hope
Downs in the eastern Hamersley Range, indicating possible
occupation of at least 35,159 ± 537 years BP (Morse, this
issue, Table 1).
Associated with the issue of the timing of Aboriginal
Pleistocene occupation of the Pilbara has been the question
of whether such occupation endured into times of markedly
increased aridity associated with the last glacial period (i.e.
OIS2, between about 29,000–15,000 cal. yr BP, see
Burroughs 2005:30, 93), and in particular the peak of aridity
associated with the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) when sea
levels off northwestern Australia were at their lowest
between 22,000 and 19,000 cal. yr BP (Yokoyama et al.
2000). The nature of Aboriginal occupation spanning the
LGM has, over the last few decades, become a consistent
focus for research in the Pilbara region, with the Hamersley
and Chichester Ranges proposed as likely refuges (Hiscock
1988; Smith 1987, 1989; Veth 1989, 1993). It is only over
the same few decades that research has shown the impact of
the LGM on climate to be more severe and at an earlier time
than previously thought (and peaking at 21,200 cal. yr BP in
the Greenland ice-core isotope stratigraphy see Turney et al.
2006 and Barrows and Juggins 2005).
The nature of regional occupation patterns during the
revised and extended LGM has been summarised, based on
seven specific rockshelter sites in the Pilbara Uplands
argued to exhibit refuge occupation during the LGM (see
O’Connor and Veth 2006: 33-39) (Figure 1). Of these sites,
only Yirra (Veitch et al. 2005) and Milly’s Cave (Marwick
2002) were said to feature persuasive evidence of LGM
occupation. O’Connor and Veth (2006) concur with
Marwick (2002) that the five other sites have no
unequivocal evidence of LGM occupation. Marwick’s
analysis found that of these sites the first two, Newman
Rockshelter (Troilett 1982) and Newman Orebody XXIX
Rockshelter (Maynard 1980), have stratigraphic records and
radiocarbon chronologies that suggest, but do not confirm,
evidence of human occupation 13,000 to 17,000 years ago
[i.e. 15,000–20,000 cal. yr BP1](Marwick 2002:23; see also
Comtesse 2003). Similarly, evidence of human occupation
in this period is regarded as ambiguous. At Mesa J J24
(Hughes and Quartermaine 1992), Malea Rockshelter
(McDonald, Hales and Associate 1997) and Manganese
Gorge 8 (Veth 1995:736) uncertainties plague interpreta-
tions of artefacts and their relationship to carbon dates.
This leaves Yirra and Milly’s Cave as the only sites in the
Pilbara interior occupied during the LGM. At Yirra, artefacts
said to occur between conventional radiocarbon ages of
19,270 ±140 BP (Wk-8954) (23,440–22,480 cal. yr BP) and
16,950 ± 90 (Wk-9148) BP (20,300–19,889 cal. yr BP) are
considered consistent with LGM refuge occupation (V
eitch
et al. 2005:58). However, despite acknowledged unresolved
bioturbation problems, with critical dates at the peak, and
with little additional information concerning artefact
frequencies, the site and local climatic history,it is uncertain
whether Yirra was occupied more intensively at the height
of the LGM or immediately afterwards.
Marwick’s 2002 paper claimed that the site of Milly’s
Cave provided the only clear indication of human
Archaeol. Oceania 44 Supplement (2009) 32–39
32
Aboriginal Settlement during the LGM at Brockman,
Pilbara Region, Western Australia
MICHAEL SLACK, MELANIE FILLIOS and RICHARD FULLAGAR
Keywords: excavations, refuge, LGM, Brockman, Pilbara
Scarp Archaeology, PO Box 7241, South Sydney Hub, NSW
2015; Michael.Slack@scarp.com.au
1. Radiocarbon calibrations in this article were completed using OxCal
v4.0.5, IntCal04.
occupation during the LGM period. We agree, but the recent
re-evaluation of the timing of the LGM (Yokoyama et al.
2000; Lambeck and Chappell 2001) suggests that this site
may have been occupied only sporadically until after the
LGM. The lowest radiocarbon determination and artefact
frequencies at Milly’s Cave could plausibly indicate more
intense occupation immediately after the LGM peak, and
discard rates underlying this level (between about 21,000
and 30,000 cal. yr BP) are very low (see Marwick 2002:25).
Wealso note that the lower two radiocarbon dates for the
site 14,150 ± 320 BP (18,024–16,022 cal. yr BP) and 18,750
± 460 BP (23,686–21,075 cal. yr BP) are separated by
possibly only 5 cm of deposit. As such, we suggest that the
Milly’s Cave data provide more compelling evidence of
increased occupation towards the end of the LGM, rather
than a persistent occupation throughout.
Accepting for the moment that the Hamersley Plateau
constituted a refuge for people during periods of extreme
regional aridity, then what was the nature of this occupa-
tion? Marwick, in reference to Milly’sCave, suggests that
territorial ranges reduced in area. O’Connor and Veth
consider more generally that retraction into and within the
ranges occurred, but that differences in relation to local
catchments would be evident, ranging from complete
abandonment through to increased use (O’Connor and Veth
2006:41).
A significant hindrance to understanding the utilization
of refuge areas before, during and after the LGM lies in the
dearth of evidence for subsistence. Foremost among the
evidence needed are systematically analysed organic
remains in conjunction with flaked stone. Edwards and
O’Connell (1995) discussed the shift toward broad spectrum
diets at the terminal Pleistocene, yet true understanding of
the phenomenon has yet to be achieved, primarily due to the
precious few excavated sites with evidence of occupation
that includes not just flaked stone, but faunal (and flora)
remains.
There is now solid evidence of Pilbara occupation during
and prior to the LGM, but cultural remains are limited to a
few excavated, and fewer still, published sites. Sites with
evidence of early occupation, such as Newman Rockshelter,
Newman Orebody XXIX Shelter,Malea Rockshelter and
Milly’sCave offer little in the way of faunal material.
Faunal remains were preserved at Malea (Edwards and
Murphy 2003), but thus far the published information
consists of little more than a species list accompanied by the
statement that the assemblage is highly fragmented
(Edwards and Murphy 2003:45). At Malea, faunal material
was not recovered from every excavation unit, but confined
to the upper 16 units. Edwards and Murphy argue that this
occurrence is likely due to preservational factors, not true
absence. Work at Malea has since been renewed, and we are
currently awaiting analyses which we hope will supply
much needed data to bolster our understanding of
subsistence and settlement in the area. Faunal remains were
also preserved at Marillana A, although discussion is limited
to a quantitative analysis of density per stratigraphic unit
(Marwick 2005:1363-4).
Faunal remains at Newman Orebody XXIX are limited to
one macropod molar in the top excavation unit (Maynard
1980:5), while data are absent from Newman Rockshelter
and Milly’sCave (Marwick 2003). The absence of faunal
data in the Pilbara is a significant hindrance to our
understanding of refuge areas, as well as early Aboriginal
subsistence as a whole.
Wereport here new sites in the region with the potential
to provide important subsistence data and more robust
frameworks concerning of Aboriginal settlement in the
Hamersley Plateau during the LGM.
Excavations at Brockman 4,
Hamersley Plateau
Recently Scarp Archaeology completed a series of
excavations within the Rio Tinto Brockman 4 mining
tenement, located in the Western Pilbara approximately
60 km west of the town of Tom Price. The results of
excavations at two particular sites: Juukan-1 and Juukan-2
provide further substantiation of a regional antiquity of
occupation of over 30,000 years, and compelling evidence
that occupation persisted even during the height of the LGM
(22,000–19,000 cal. yr BP). These results are interesting,
and somewhat surprising given the location of Brockman
well within the central Hamersley Plateau and over 75 km
north of the nearest substantial watercourse (albeit
ephemeral), the Ashburton River.
Both Juukan-1 and Juukan-2 are located within a small
ironstone gorge, near to a small ephemeral watercourse
known as Purlykunti Creek (Figure 2). Three other rock-
shelter sites occur within this gorge, however all feature
very recent occupation sequences. Below the gorge on an
extensive floodplain a very large open artefact scatter also
occurs. It is thought that the dominant stone raw materials
including ironstone, chert, quartz and siltstone are all
available from the creek at and near to the open scatter.
33
Figure 1. The Hamersley Range area with sites discussed.
Juukan-1
Juukan-1 is a south facing ironstone rockshelter approxi-
mately 25 m width, 8 m deep, and has a dripline about 10 m
high. The site features a higher collapsing rear chamber and
an open entrance area set at a slightly lower level with a lot
of roof fall separating the two areas. The floor of the rear
chamber consists of soft sediment that slopes down from the
rear.Flaked stone material was recorded along the front of
the site, particularly in the western end of the shelter.
During August 2008 a single 1 x 1 mtest pit was
excavated in the front chamber of the rockshelter.
Excavations reached a depth of 75 cm below the surface
where a level of solid roof fall or bedrock was encountered.
The stratigraphy of the test pit consisted of three main
layers: a topsoil of loose material overlying brown/grey
compacted sediment with many organic finds, which in turn
overlies a horizon of orange/brown. A small pink/white lens
of soft chalky material was also noted at a depth of
approximately 40 to 50 cm below the surface, as were small
lenses of charcoal (Figure 3).
A series of three radiocarbon determinations show that
discard of cultural material occurred at Juukan-1 from as
early as 32,950 ± 270 BP (conventional radiocarbon age)
(Beta-249759) at a depth of 60 cm. Until 35 cm below the
surface, which is dated to 26,640 ± 160 BP (conventional
radiocarbon age) (Beta-249758), sediment accumulation
and artefact discard were slow. From this point however, a
generally more rapid accumulation rate is proposed
extending to recent times with a near surface age
determination of 760 ± 40 BP (conventional radiocarbon
age) (Beta-249757) (740–660 cal. yr BP).
Atotal of thirty two stone artefacts were recovered from
Juukan-1. The majority of these occurred in spits 1 and 2,
with only individual artefacts recorded in lower spits. The
lowest artefact recovered from the site however was found
in spit 14 at a depth of approximately 70 cm, underlying the
date of 32,920 years BP.All of the flaked stone was
recorded in the far south eastern corner of the test square,
and it is likely that further planed extensions to the
excavations will provide a greater assemblage size.
In addition to flaked stone, a total of 67 fragments of
animal bone were recovered, of which 57 were identifiable.
Species identified included bandicoot, kangaroo, wallaroo,
native mouse, rat and one fish fragment (Table 1). Animal
bone from small to large species was recovered from most
spits, with the exception of spit 9, with the majority of the
bone belonging to medium-large macropods. Overall faunal
density is consistently small, with the exception of spit 12,
in which nearly 50% of the recovered bone was found
(Figure 4). All bone is highly fragmented with long bone
shaft fragments accounting for 66% of the bone recovered,
followed by teeth (9%) (Figure 5).
Species Common name NISP % Total NISP
Macropus rufus Red kangaroo 13 23%
Macropus robustus Common wallaroo 40 70%
Isoodon sp. Bandicoot 1 <2%
Pseudomys sp. Native mouse 1<2%
Rattus sp. Native rat 1 <2%
Fish Fish 1 <2%
Total NISP 57
Table 1. Juukan-1 Species Frequency
Atotal of nine fragments of bone are burned, two of
which are calcined, suggesting deposition in fire for longer
34
Figure 3. Site plan and stratigraphic profile drawings
of Juukan–1.
Figure 2. Juukan gorge looking towards Purlykunti Creek
periods of time. In addition to burning, taphonomic analyses
reveal several specimens with evidence of heavy
mineralization, potentially suggestive of greater time depth.
Bone from Juukan-1 is unweathered with no obvious post-
depositional surface modifications, suggesting the faunal
assemblage is an in situ deposit with rapid burial.
The frequency of long bone shaft fragments, coupled
with the high degree of fragmentation in the faunal
assemblage is suggestive of either human or carnivore
activity. However, given the absence of animal gnaw marks
on the surviving bone, coupled with evidence of burning
from fire, humans are considered the most likely
accumulator in this assemblage. Given the small sample
size, it is difficult to draw conclusions concerning changes
in species utilization and/or frequency diachronically.
However, the extant faunal evidence suggests both species
and element frequencies remain constant throughout the
spits containing bone, showing no obvious signs of
diachronic change. Additionally, the highest frequency of
bone occurs in spit 12, associated with the oldest date (and
possibly) with the oldest artefact, providing even clearer
evidence for early occupation.
Juukan-2
Juukan-2 is a large cavernous rockshelter located 50 m to
the west of Juukan-1. The site consists of two south-facing
chambers; a large western chamber with very deep sediment
and cathedral-like roof height, and a lesser eastern chamber
which is small and largely unprotected with a bare rock
floor. The main chamber is 10 m wide, 10 m deep and has a
height at the dripline of about 8 m. There are three general
areas to the main chamber; a scoured and rocky area with
some plants in the western side where a hole in the roof has
allows rainfall to enter, a main central area where large roof
fall at the front has aided in trapping extensive sediment,
and a raised area at the eastern rear of the site where bedrock
is higher than other areas and where sediment deposition is
minimal.
Like Juukan-1 a single 1 x 1 m test pit was excavated in
2008. The excavations consisted of 21, 5 cm spits that were
concluded at a depth approximately 1.05 m below the
surface, where large pieces of roof fall stopped any further
excavation. Five stratigraphic units were recorded within
the deposit, largely related to the changes in ironstone
weathering and minerals (Figure 5). At least five hearths
were also noted. A high frequency of flaked stone and
animal bones were also recovered.
Three carbon samples from spits 2, 12 and 17 returned
dates of 470 ± 40 years BP (Beta-247330) (540–490 cal. yr
BP), 16,160 ± 80 years BP (Beta-247331) (19,490–19,080
cal. yr BP) and 20,090 ± 100 years BP (Beta-247332). The
lowest date of 20,090 years BP was obtained using AMS
techniques and is derived from a depth of 85 cm below the
surface. This date represents neither the level of the lowest
artefacts or a basal date for the site. It is likely that the
deposit of Juukan-2 might be up to 0.5 m deeper than our
excavations.
A total of 272 flaked stone artefacts were recovered from
the test pit excavation. Artefacts were noted in all but spit 16
of the excavation, with the lowest recorded in spit 18 (at a
depth of 90 cm), below the lowest age determination of
20,090 years BP. The assemblage is dominated by
unmodified flakes (95.2%), with few retouched flakes
(4.4%) and even fewer cores (0.4%). Retouched artefacts
are chiefly comprised of chert (n = 8), and ironstone (n = 4).
The rates of discard for the flaked stone assemblage are
low, but remain steady throughout the period of occupation,
until spit 4 at approximately 5000 years BP where discard
increases fourfold (Figure 6). Although limited by the
sample size, there does not appear to be evidence of a hiatus
in occupation or sedimentation at the site before, during and
after the LGM peak.
Analysis of raw material richness and diversity of
artefacts shows that the assemblage is comprised of five
types of stone; ironstone, chert, quartz, chalcedony and
siltstone. Chert and quartz dominate the assemblage (55.9%
and 29%) with lesser amounts of ironstone (13.6%),
chalcedony (1.1%) and siltstone (0.4%). Interestingly
ironstone is as dominant a raw material in the lower spits as
chert and quartz until the aforementioned massive increase
in discard from 5000 years BP onwards. The first retouch in
35
Figure 5. Juukan-1 Skeletal Element Frequency (NISP).
Figure 4. Juukan-1 Faunal density by excavation unit
(NISP).
the assemblage occurs in spit 14 at about 19,000 years BP,
with a sharp peak occurring in spit 5 at about 7000 years BP
where the first evidence of backing occurs.
The rate of fragmentation of flakes shows dominance of
complete flakes (81.9% n = 222), with far lesser quantities
of broken flakes – distal account for 7.7% (n = 21), proximal
for 5.2% (n = 14) and medial for 4.1% (n = 11). The ratio of
broken to complete flakes is very low until spit 3 at about
4000 years BP where complete flakes account for just
65.2% (n = 43) and broken flakes total 34.8% (n = 23). This
is most likely the result of treadage, with more intensive use
of the shelter proposed at this time during the Mid-Holocene
El Nino arid phase experienced in Northern Australia.
Up until the mid Holocene, the assemblage is dominated
by ironstone flakes. These are generally heavier and have a
greater size range especially during the periods between
about 15,000 and 5000 BP.After 5000 BP, chert is the
dominant raw material and the average weight of flakes is
much less than 1 g. Retouched flakes are generally heavier
than unmodified flakes, and in the case of ironstone,
significantly so.
The relationships between the size of complete flakes and
the extent of their reduction is further supported by analysis
of the amount of cortical surface still present on the dorsal
surface of the flake. This analysis shows that ironstone
flakes are far more likely than chert to have more cortex,
indicating that they have been less reduced. Additionally
both chert and quartz flakes are far more likely than
ironstone flakes to have smaller and more reduced
platforms, as evidenced by single and multiple flake scar
platforms.
In addition to the flaked stone, 857 fragments of animal
bone were recovered from Juukan-2. A wide variety of
species is present, with small species (native rats/mice,
lizard, snake) comprising the majority of the recovered
specimens (61%, NISP = 523). Medium-large macropods
(kangaroo, wallaby) comprise 30% (NISP = 255), and the
assemblage is rounded out by fish and bird fragments.
Species identified include: Red kangaroo, common
wallaroo, bandicoot, possum, pygmy possum, echidna,
bettong, native mouse, rat, gekko, skink, small bird and fish
(Table 2), with bone recovered from nearly every spit
(Figure 8).
Species Common name NISP % Total NISP
Macropus rufus Red kangaroo 68 18%
Macropus robustus Common wallaroo 143 38%
Isoodon sp./ Bandicoot 9 2%
Perameles sp.
Trichosurus vulpecula/. Possum 5 1%
Pseudocheirus sp
Cercartetus sp. Pygmy possum 2 <1%
Tachyglossus aculeatus Echidna 9 2%
Bettongia lesueur Bettong (boodie) 3 <1%
Antechinus sp./ Native mouse 37 10%
Pseudomys sp.
Hydromys sp./Rattus sp. Native rat 89 24%
Gekkonidae sp./ Gekko 8 2%
Scincidae sp. Skink
Aves sp. Bird 2 <1%
Fish Fish 1 <1%
Total NISP 376
Table 2. Juukan-2 species frequency.
All major skeletal elements are represented in the
assemblage, with long bone shaft fragments contributing the
highest number of fragments (NISP =120). Differences in
element frequency are present, however, between smaller
and larger species. Elements belonging to smaller species
are dominated by limb bones and are largely unfragmented,
with a large proportion of complete skeletal elements. The
most frequently occurring elements are teeth and vertebra,
respectively. In contrast, bone belonging to medium-large
individuals is highly fragmented and heavily weighted
toward long bone shaft fragments (Figure 9). There is
however, a relative paucity of macropod lower limb
elements which can likely be accounted for by the long bone
shaft fragments. Teeth from medium-large macropods show
amixture of tooth wear stages ranging from unworn to
extremely worn, suggesting a mixture of young and old
individuals.
Seven percent (NISP = 61) of the assemblage shows
evidence of burning, with a third (NISP =18) of these being
calcined, suggesting deposition in fire for longer periods of
time in a defleshed state. Burned bone belongs to a range of
36
Figure 6. Plan and section drawing of Juukan-2.
37
Figure 7. Graph of flaked
stone artefact discard at
Juukan-2.
Figure 9. Juukan-2 Skeletal
Element Representation
(NISP).
Figure 8. Juukan-2 Faunal
density by excavation unit
(spit).
species, and is not confined to any one class of individual.
In addition to burning, five specimens show evidence of
tooth marks, and five fragments from spit 15 have possible
cut marks, including a kangaroo sacrum, pelvis and long
bone shaft fragment. Taphonomic analysis suggests the
faunal assemblage represents an in situ deposit with rapid
burial, as the bone is unweathered and there is no physical
evidence on the bone surfaces for either aeolian or fluvial
transport.
At Juukan-2 analysis of the fauna may provide important
diachronic information on subsistence strategies in the
region. While the majority of species and skeletal element
distributions appear to remain consistent through time,
medium macropods (wallaroos) were more common at the
beginning of occupation, while the frequency of large
macropods (kangaroos) increases toward the end of the
occupation (Figure 10). It is likely that the macropod
presence is a cultural rather than natural accumulation, as
burned and calcined bone, taken in conjunction with
evidence for hearths, suggests people were likely
responsible for some of the faunal accumulation. Heavy
fragmentation of macropod lower limb bones also supports
aprimary human role in the accumulation, as do possible cut
marks. The presence of bone from less common species
such as echidna and fish lends further weight to the notion
of people as bone accumulators. Preserved faunal remains
are rare in rockshelters, and further faunal analysis at sites in
which bone is present has the potential to contribute
significant information regarding species exploitation in the
Pilbara for which there is a severe dearth of published data.
Discussion
The results of our excavations at Brockman provide
important new information concerning the prehistory of the
Pilbara. First, our data provide further support for early
occupation of beyond 35,000 BP. Second, the cultural
sequence at Juukan-2 indicates a continual, albeit
infrequent, occupation of the Brockman region during OIS
2, and even at the height of the LGM.
In terms of hunter gatherer landscape use, our analysis of
the data is limited by sample size, however a number of
observations and hypotheses are suggested. That these two
rockshelters have evidence that people had been in this area
of the Hamersley during the LGM indicates that a local
population may have actually been more residentially
mobile during enhanced aridity than what we might expect,
given the dominant refuge models and their previous
application to the Pilbara (but see Veth 2005:101). It is clear
that people were not just retreating into gorges on the
margins of the ranges near to the main river courses, but that
amore complex use of the landscape, perhaps following
local weather patterns and allowing access to the less
drained areas occurred. Further to this we consider that it is
likely that with greater rainfall after the LGM residential
mobility decreased. This would explain the greater levels of
discard at Brockman, the increase in the density of faunal
remains at Juukan-2 in the later phases of occupation, and
also those trends observed in the flaked stone by Marwick at
Milly’sCave (2002:29). However at Brockman, during
periods of greater rainfall, we think it possible that while
residential mobility decreased, logistical mobility increased
(at least on a local level). This is suggested by the greater
range of raw materials and larger sizes of flaked stone
during the last few thousand years of the Pleistocene and up
to the middle of the Holocene. Also apparent is that the
intensity of reduction and frequency of artefact discard
increased slightly in the mid and late Holocene. Behavioural
implications suggested by the faunal remains provide
additional support for the increase in occupation during later
periods (however,the fauna also show that both Juukan-1
and Juukan-2 were used continually in all periods). Given
38
Figure 10. Juukan-2 Frequency
of large vs. medium
macropods by excavation unit
(NISP).
the results of other excavations within the region that all
date to this period, this trend is likely to be related to
increased population levels – as suggested by Marwick
(2002).
Conclusion
The results of this ongoing project further emphasise that
the archaeology of the Pilbara region will continue to play
an important role in developing our understandings of the
timing of arid settlement, and the nature of hunter gatherer
subsistence during periods of uncertainty like the LGM.
Further excavations at Brockman will focus on these issues
and with hopefully greater sample sizes obtained, on the
nature of technological innovation and its relationship to
mobility in such a marginal landscape over such a long
period of time.
Acknowledgements
This project would not have been possible without the
tireless work of the following people from the Puuntu Kunti
Kurruma and Pinnikura and Scarp Archaeology who were
involved in the excavation and analysis of the Juukan
sites; Harold Ashburton, Corbett Ashburton, Charleston
Ashburton, Jimmy Ashburton, John Ashburton, Lenny
Ashburton, Kate Connell, Burchell Hayes, Arness James,
Robert James McKay, and Sarah Robertson. We would like
to thank Rio Tinto Iron Ore, particularly Ed Clarke, Merv
Lockyear, Jason Masters and Amy Stevens. We also
acknowledge the support of Pilbara Native Title Services.
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... This open site record represents a valuable resource for reconstructing how past Aboriginal people successfully navigated semi-arid environments. However, few analyses of open surface sites have been published compared to those from stratified contexts (e.g., Cropper and Law, 2018;Marsh et al., 2018;Marwick, 2002;Reynen et al., 2018;Slack et al., 2009). In addition, like many other parts of Australia, the inland Pilbara region has not been the subject of any sourcing work to date, at least in the published literature. ...
... BS4MM15_05 (n = 39) is located in a low saddle between two mesas and also includes mudstone artefacts Wood 2016, 2018). BROCK-25 (n = 1227), located 3.5 km to the west ( Fig. 1), is a mixedmaterial artefact scatter located next to Purlykuti Creek; some 200 m away from the Juukan 2 rockshelter (see Reynen, 2019;Slack et al., 2009). It should be noted that no geological samples were collected from the quarries and so the quarried artefacts cannot be compared with nonartefactual samples which derive from the quarried outcrops. ...
... Sourcing BIF will also help archaeologists better understand the use and management of this raw material (sensu Ditchfield et al., in press). For example, due to its ubiquity, BIF is commonly referred to as a 'locally' sourced lithology (e.g., Cropper and Law, 2018;Slack et al., 2009). However, with an expanded database, it may be possible to accurately identify BIF source localities based on lithology, petrology and geochemistry rather than simply assuming a local source for BIF artefacts. ...
Article
Past human mobility, often reconstructed using stone artefact assemblages, is an important component of Australian archaeology. Tracing the transport of stone artefacts enables direct measures of the direction and distance of past Aboriginal movement across landscapes. Sourcing transported stone artefacts to their geological point of origin therefore has the potential to significantly improve our understanding of human mobility. Beyond this, the identification of artefact source locations is also critical for stone artefact analyses since raw material factors strongly condition assemblage formation. However, relatively little stone sourcing has been completed in Australia. This is particularly the case for the inland Pilbara, north-western Australia, where almost no sourcing work has been published. This paper presents the results of a limited pilot study which aimed to test the application of petrographic and in situ laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS) analytical techniques to the sourcing of transported artefacts from three Pilbara quarried outcrops to two non-quarried open surface sites. The results indicate that geochemical interelement ratios (e.g., La/Nd and U/Th) can discriminate between both quarry sites and artefacts. A clear petrographic and geochemical match between a quarry and one stone artefact discarded at a non-quarried site was found, and different samples collected from the same quarry yielded overlapping geochemical signatures. This suggests that LA-ICPMS has the potential to elucidate artefact transport (as a proxy for the movement of people) between locations, effectively linking these places as part of a behavioural system. While a larger database of artefact and quarry specimens is needed to fully explore both the efficacy of the approach and the archaeological implications, this study suggests that sourcing techniques hold significant promise for reconstructing past human mobility in the Pilbara and for demonstrating landscape-scale connections between sites.
... Sea levels were at their lowest e at 130 m lower than today e during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Quantitative estimates of precipitation and temperature levels from local marine core data suggest the period between 33 ka and 20.4 ka represents the driest climatic period in the past 100,000 years (van der Kaars and De Deckker, 2002; see also Slack et al., 2009;Williams et al., 2009Williams et al., : 2410 and that this continued until c. 19 ka ( Lewis et al., 2013). At this time regional sea level curves indicate that the coast was 160 km distant ( Ward et al., 2013). ...
... The absence of dated deposits for early occupation of Murujuga has stood in stark contrast to the numerous indications of Late Pleistocene occupation from across the Pilbara and Carnarvon bioregions ( Fig. 1; Law et al., 2010;Morse et al., 2014;Przywolnik, 2005;Reynen and Morse, 2016;Slack et al., 2009;Veth et al., 2014Veth et al., , 2017. The Murujuga Rockshelter deposits confirm that people were living in the Murujuga Ranges during the late Pleis- tocene, and that this occupation was repeated and represented multiple activities. ...
... Murujuga Rockshelter is now the sixth site in northwest Australia to exhibit unequivocal evidence for occupation during the LGM (Marwick, 2002;Morse et al., 2014;Slack et al., 2009) e but it is the only one of these sites not located in the inland Pilbara region. This lends support to the notion that the once rocky ranges of Murujuga e an ecotone on the edge of the limestone plain with more reliable water and food sources e functioned as a refuge for human populations during increasingly arid periods during the Pleistocene (Smith, 2013;Veth, 1993Veth, , 2005). ...
... Although reprehensible, the destruction was lawful under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) as approval had been granted before the company and Traditional Owners were provided archaeological evidence of the sites' particular significance (Altman & Tout, 2020;Hunt, 2020;Pearson, 2020). Notably, archaeological evidence of human habitation at the caves going back 35,000 years was first published over ten years prior to the caves' destruction, that is, before the permissions to destroy the site were granted (Slack et al., 2009). ...
... Yet, it is revealing that much of the public outrage and discussion within Australia regarding Juukan Gorge focused only on the loss of Indigenous cultural heritage, which is significant and catastrophic, without mention that the loss is additionally significant from Western anthropological and archaeological perspectives due to the deep history evidenced in the caves (Pearson, 2020;Wahlquist, 2020). A relational paradigm easily recognises that Indigenous cultural heritage is human cultural heritage, and that understanding ancient human narratives and ways of dealing with changing climates on this continent (Slack et al., 2009) has meaning for the present day in a manner that has economic potential as well as cultural value for all people. Although the legislation that enabled this tragedy is in the process of being reformed by the WA government, (Hunt, 2020;Pearson, 2020), the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc. ...
Article
In this article, we present a critical reflection on the academy’s approach to knowledge production and dissemination in Australian universities and propose a paradigm shift towards an approach that actively promotes Indigenous knowledges within the academic canon and searches for complementarity and shared interests between Indigenous and Western epistemes. We begin this article with discussion of the role of the academy, and Western and Indigenous discourses around knowledge. From there we discuss contemporary issues of bushfire management and the Juukan Gorge destruction as illustrations to make a case for the role of the academy in engaging with knowledges that arise outside Western paradigms; and translating those knowledges to diverse audiences. Finally, we examine obstacles that must be addressed in a robust academic pursuit of epistemological synergy. Issues of knowledge ownership, epistemological and methodological challenges, and neo-colonialism are discussed as critical aspects of all collaboration towards knowledge integration
... The Central Pilbara region of Western Australia (WA) has a human history that extends beyond 42,000 years (e.g., Marsh et al., 2018;Slack et al., 2018). Over the past two decades, heritage assessments associated with mineral exploration in the region have generated many archaeological site recordings resulting in small but increasing numbers of research publications (e.g., Bird and Rhoads, 2020;Cropper and Law, 2018;Fullagar et al., 2017;Huntley et al., 2020;Marsh et al., 2018;Slack et al., 2009Slack et al., , 2017Wallis and Matthews, 2016;Wallis et al., , 2020). Yet despite discourse being centred around human behavioural responses to climatic variability during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and the mid-to late Holocene (e.g., Brown, 1987;Hughes et al., 2011;Law et al., 2010;Marwick, 2002a;Slack et al., 2009;Smith, 2013), there remains very little detailed understanding of local environmental conditions. ...
... Over the past two decades, heritage assessments associated with mineral exploration in the region have generated many archaeological site recordings resulting in small but increasing numbers of research publications (e.g., Bird and Rhoads, 2020;Cropper and Law, 2018;Fullagar et al., 2017;Huntley et al., 2020;Marsh et al., 2018;Slack et al., 2009Slack et al., , 2017Wallis and Matthews, 2016;Wallis et al., , 2020). Yet despite discourse being centred around human behavioural responses to climatic variability during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and the mid-to late Holocene (e.g., Brown, 1987;Hughes et al., 2011;Law et al., 2010;Marwick, 2002a;Slack et al., 2009;Smith, 2013), there remains very little detailed understanding of local environmental conditions. Unfortunately, as is true for other arid and semi-arid regions, suitable records to assess Pilbara palaeoenvironmental conditions are scarce owing to the lack of traditional sampling locales such as lakes, dunes, and fluvial deposits, coupled with the generally deleterious effects the extreme environmental conditions have on the preservation of organic remains (cf. ...
Article
The Pilbara region in Western Australia (WA) is of high biological and archaeological significance, though our understanding of its environmental history is limited. Potentially valuable palaeoenvironmental archives exist throughout the Central Pilbara in caves and rockshelters in the form of amberat middens (crystallised animal urine), which are known from elsewhere to preserve botanical and faunal remains. Here we report a pilot study aimed at assessing how a multiproxy analysis of these middens could be used to infer past environmental change in response to climate change and therefore help to characterise the nature of past human-environmental relationships in the Pilbara region. Findings show that rockshelters of the inland Pilbara contain some of the oldest known amberat middens in Australia, extending fully back to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Well preserved pollen and macrofossils in the middens tentatively suggest that vegetation throughout the late Pleistocene was likely dominated by an open woodland with a shift after 6000 BP to a more heterogenous pattern of vegetation with the increasing dominance of grassland communities. Several hiatuses in midden accumulation are apparent, which are tentatively interpreted as indicating that the region was affected by prolonged dry periods in the past. This may help explain concomitant patterns of decreased human occupation in the corresponding archaeological record. This pilot study has demonstrated the value of amberat middens for providing much needed local paleoenvironmental data in arid and semi-arid regions of Australia.
... Occupation of the arid zone during the LGM has been a central research interest in Australian archaeology for decades (Bowler and Wasson, 1984;Hiscock, 1988;Lampert and Hughes, 1987;Marwick, 2002;Morse, 1993;Morse et al., 2014;Przywolnik, 2005;Reynen et al., 2018;Slack et al., 2009;Smith, 1989;Smith, 2013;Veitch et al., 2005;Veth, 1987;Veth, 1989a;Veth, 1989b;Veth et al., 2016;Veth et al., 2017;Williams et al., 2013;Williams et al., 2015). The most recent excavation at Karnatukul provides the first evidence for persistent occupation of the Western Desert through the LGM (McDonald et al., 2018a). ...
... Discontinuities are unquestionably present within many arid zone and coastal Pilbara sites, evidently corresponding to part or all of the LGM (Morse, 1993;Przywolnik, 2005;Smith, 2013;Veth et al., 2016;Veth et al., 2017;Williams et al., 2013;Williams et al., 2015). Other sites, on the contrary, (including Karnatukul) record evidence for occupation during the LGM (Balme et al., 2009;Dortch et al., 2019;Marwick, 2002;McDonald et al., 2018a;McDonald et al., 2018b;Morse et al., 2014;Reynen et al., 2018;Slack et al., 2009;Veitch et al., 2005). ...
Article
Despite environmental factors being at the forefront of socio-ecological models in Australian archaeology, detailed local environmental and vegetation datasets are uncommon. Such data is important in assessing, for instance, if and how shifting climatic conditions influenced and conditioned hunter-gatherer movements and choices. Archaeological re-excavation of Karnatukul (Serpents Glen) in Katjarra (the Carnarvon Ranges) provided an opportunity to undertake anthracological (archaeological wood macro-charcoal) analysis. This data offers an insight into the earliest uses of firewood and collection strategies in the Australian Western Desert. This study aimed at testing global anthracological methodologies to examine the problems and potentials offered by this important sub-discipline which is currently developing in Australian archaeology. This study makes an important contribution to international anthracological studies, given these are rarely applied to arid contexts, especially with an occupation record spanning almost 50 ka. The study demonstrates the presence and persistence of Acacia (sens. str.) woodlands from the Pleistocene, through the Last Glacial Maximum, and into the Holocene with the case made that this productive plant makes an essential contribution to the habitability of this arid landscape.
... I argue here that this is indeed a sign of things to come in Australian archaeology, with increasing amounts of valuable research now being published that derives from CHM-driven projects rather than university-based projects (e.g. Bird and Rhoads 2020;Fullagar et al. 2017;Huntley et al. 2018;McDonald et al. 2007;Slack et al. 2009Slack et al. , 2017Slack et al. , 2018Wallis and Matthews 2016;White and McDonald 2010;Williams et al. 2012Williams et al. , 2017. Of course, translating CHM into research is not easy, as it requires the navigation of commercial and confidential arrangements, and not all clients are willing to support investigations that go beyond the minimal legislative requirements. ...
Article
Full-text available
The opening keynote session at the 2019 Australian Archaeological Association (AAA) annual conference on the Gold Coast was designed to allow reflection on how archaeology has developed in the 50 years since John Mulvaney (1969) published his landmark Prehistory of Australia (Clarkson 2019; David and Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation 2019; Hodgetts and Ross 2019; Jacobs 2019; McDonald 2019). In reflecting on that issue myself, I wonder whether the kind of generalist practitioner that John and others (including his contemporary Isabel McBryde) epitomised, is endangered, or perhaps even extinct? In this paper, which is an expanded version of the spoken comments I offered in response to the AAA keynote presentations (Wallis 2019), I contemplate our current position as Australian archaeological practitioners in the broader context of shrinking research funding, increasing bureaucratisation of universities, an unhealthy attention to metrics as the primary measure of research value, and increasing levels of specialisation, offset against a burgeoning cultural heritage management (CHM) sector. In keeping with the 2019 conference theme, I suggest we require some conscious and deliberate 'disruption' of the discourse if we hope to have another productive 50 years.
... Across Sahul as well, settlement patterns changed in the millennia following the LGM as people responded to significant changes in temperature, aridity and sea level (Maloney et al., 2018;Slack et al., 2009;Smith, 2013;Veth, 1993). From 20 to 19 Ky deglaciation had commenced and sea levels had begun to rise which eventually flooded up to one-third of Australia's continental landmass. ...
Article
Late Pleistocene records of island settlement can shed light on how modern humans (Homo sapiens) adapted their behaviour to live on ecologically marginal landscapes. When people reached Sahul (Pleistocene New Guinea-Australia), between 65 and 50 ka, the only islands they would have encountered were in the tropical north. This unique geographic situation therefore offers the only possibility of modelling human adaptive behaviour to islands in Australasia during the Late Pleistocene. Cave excavation on the uplifted limestone island of Panaeati in the Massim region of Southeastern New Guinea revealed a cultural sequence commencing from 17,300–16,800 cal. BP, suggesting habitation of higher coastlines occurred as low-lying shorelines destabilised during the initial stages of deglacial sea-level rise. No cave use was evident between 12,400 and 4780 cal. BP when the continental shelf was fully inundated, and Panaeati reduced in size by 90%. It is likely that diminished coastlines and the reduced resources of low-lying islands could no longer support pre-agricultural populations during this time. Cultural groups that were better adapted to living on small islands returned to Panaeati by 4780–4490 cal. BP when sea levels had stabilised, lagoons formed, and coastal ecosystems had diversified. Investigations demonstrate the role of larger islands as refugia during deglacial sea-level rise and the effects on human dispersals and cultural diversity.
... 45 cal ka BP. Evidence for early occupation on the western plateau, at the site of Juukan-1, yielded a slightly younger pre-LGM age of 32.9 ± 0.3 ka BP (35.5 ± 0.7 cal ka BP) (Slack et al., 2009); however, more recent and extensive investigations at Juukan-2 suggest occupation is earlier than previously understood, with unpublished information forthcoming (Slack et al., 2020). ...
Article
For over 30 years, the radiometric chronologies of Newman Rockshelter and Newman Orebody XXIX have been central to archaeological discussions on the Pleistocene Aboriginal occupation of the Hamersley Plateau and greater Pilbara region. Until 2009, these two sites were heralded as having the oldest evidence of human occupation on the plateau, dating to the last glacial maximum (LGM) ∼ 26–20 ka. More recently however, the excavations at several other rockshelters have shown that ancient Aboriginal peoples occupied the Hamersley Plateau many thousands of years before the onset of the last glacial cycle, when regional climatic conditions were wetter and more amenable. This paper presents the results of our re-excavation of both Newman Rockshelter and Newman Orebody XXIX. Our research has resulted in the compilation and analysis of large lithic datasets for each of these sites and the construction of geo-chronologies using modern radiometric techniques, including AMS-radiocarbon dating and optically stimulated luminescence dating. These new radiometric chronologies and artefact data indicate that both sites were occupied between 45 and 40 ka. Despite having significant early occupational evidence, neither of the rockshelters present strong evidence for sustained or persistent site use during the LGM proper ca. 23–19 ka; however, there is substantial evidence for more routine occupation of these localities during the terminal Pleistocene and Holocene.
... Other Australian sites in marginal areas that contain an LGM record, such as Carpenters Gap 1 (Frawley & O'Connor 2010;Maloney et al. 2018;Wallis 2001) and those in the Pilbara uplands, including Milly's Cave (Marwick 2002), Yirra (Veitch et al. 2005), Juukan 2 (Slack et al. 2009) and Yurlu Kankala (Reynen et al. 2018), have been argued to be LGM refuges because of their location near water, making them more productive than lowland areas. It seems that at Riwi there were also times when sufficient water was available for it to be occupied during an otherwise arid phase. ...
Article
Aboriginal people occupied Riwi, a limestone cave in the south-central Kimberley region at the edge of the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia, from about 46000 years ago through to the historical period. The cultural materials recovered from the Riwi excavations provide evidence of intermittent site use, especially in climatically wet periods. Changes in hunting patterns and in hearth-making practices about 34000 years ago appear to accompany a change to drought resistant vegetation in the site surrounds. Occupation during the Last Glacial Maximum highlights variation in aridity trends in the broader environmental record. The most intensive use of the cave was during a wet period in the early to middle Holocene, when people appear to have received marine shell beads from the coast through social networks. While there is less evidence for late Holocene occupation, this probably reflects deposition processes rather than an absence of occupation.
Article
Full-text available
The re-excavation of Karnatukul (Serpent’s Glen) has provided evidence for the human occupation of the Australian Western Desert to before 47,830 cal. BP (modelled median age). This new sequence is 20,000 years older than the previous known age for occupation at this site. Re-excavation of Karnatukul aimed to contextualise the site’s painted art assemblage. We report on analyses of assemblages of stone artefacts and pigment art, pigment fragments, anthracology, new radiocarbon dates and detailed sediment analyses. Combined these add significantly to our understanding of this earliest occupation of Australia’s Western Desert. The large lithic assemblage of over 25,000 artefacts includes a symmetrical geometric backed artefact dated to 45,570–41,650 cal. BP. The assemblage includes other evidence for hafting technology in its earliest phase of occupation. This research recalibrates the earliest Pleistocene occupation of Australia’s desert core and confirms that people remained in this part of the arid zone during the Last Glacial Maximum. Changes in occupation intensity are demonstrated throughout the sequence: at the late Pleistocene/Holocene transition, the mid-Holocene and then during the last millennium. Karnatukul documents intensive site use with a range of occupation activities and different signalling behaviours during the last 1,000 years. This correlation of rock art and occupation evidence refines our understanding of how Western Desert peoples have inscribed their landscapes in the recent past, while the newly described occupation sequence highlights the dynamic adaptive culture of the first Australians, supporting arguments for their rapid very early migration from the coasts and northern tropics throughout the arid interior of the continent.
Article
Full-text available
A colonization model is proposed to explain the timing of human occupation in different regions of the arid zone and the reasons for inferred demographic changes through time. A biogeographic approach views changes in human economy and technology against the backdrop of climatic oscillations of the last 40,000 years. This model stands in strong contrast to that of the ‘conservative desert culture’ proposed by Gould, which has become untenable as data from arid zone excavations are increasingly argued to reflect significant changes in human economy, technology and demography through time. The results of regional survey and excavation from the Pilbara and sandy deserts of north-west Australia, from central Australia, the Flinders Ranges and adjacent dunefields and from semi-arid Queensland suggest that the occupation of the arid zone from the late Pleistocene on is likely to have been a highly dynamic process. The notion of a stable human adaptation to the diverse landforms and environments of the arid zone finds little support in the archaeological record.
Article
Excavations have been carried out at a number of rockshelters in the Pilbara region of Western Australia as part of mitigative salvage work and research supported by Hamersley Iron Pty Ltd. The excavations commenced in 1998 and are ongoing. At all times, the work was conducted with participation of and supervision from the relevant Aboriginal people. These people are the Innawonga in the Paraburdoo area, the Gurama in the Mount Brockman area and the Bandjima and Niabarli in the Yandicoogina area. Their contributions to the research are gratefully acknowledged.
Article
A characteristic feature of human subsistence as the last glaciation ended was the turn towards new food sources, in a ‘broad spectrum’ transformation. Australia took an unusual course, and the trajectory in its arid zone is especially striking. What were the broad spectrum diets in arid Austalia? Why did they arise so late? Did they arise late?
Article
The full glacial climate was marked by enhanced aridity, suggesting that there would be no human occupation of the interior of the continent at the glacial maximum. However, evidence from Puritjarra Rockshelter shows that the Central Australian Ranges continued to be occupied between 22,000 and 13,000 BP. The repeated use of Puritjarra, together with its location away from any natural corridor for travel into the region, indicates the presence of a resident local population. The archaeological evidence is complemented by a model of human ecology in Central Australia at 18,000 BP, showing that there is no a priori reason for expecting the region to have been totally abandoned during the last glacial maximum.
Article
In February and March 1994, McDonald, Hales and Associates conducted on behalf of Hancock Prospecting Propriety Limited (subsequently Hope Downs Management Services) a series of archaeological evaluations within the proposed Hope Downs Iron Ore Project area, located approximately 75 km northwest of Newman, Western Australia (Fig. 1). These evaluations formed part of an on-going programme of Aboriginal heritage research and consultation initiated in March 1992 and only recently completed (McDonald, Hales and Associates 2001). During the course of the archaeological evaluations, some 23 potential archaeological deposits were test-pitted. Of these, only one, named 'Malea' by participating members of the Aboriginal community, was found to contain a significant depth of cultural deposit. Malea faces west across a small north-west/south-east running gully dominated by rocks of the Marra Mamba Iron Ore formation. Situated at an elevation of approximately 15 m above the base of the gully, Malea is quite small, measuring 7 m (N-S) by 4 m (E-W) internally, giving a total floor space of approximately 28 sq.m. The roof of the shelter rises from less than 0.5 m at the rear to a height of more than 2 m at the dripline. The front of the shelter is partially enclosed by a low ridge of large to massive pieces of roof fall, which is believed to have acted as a natural trap for wind-blown sediments, resulting in substantial sediment accumulation within the main portion of the shelter. For the purposes of evaluation, a 0.5 m? test-pit was excavated in the more enclosed northern half of the shelter, immediately rear of the dripline. Owing to the quantity of material recovered, together with concerns over safety and access, the initial test-pit was progressively expanded to 2 m x Figure 1 Map showing the location of Malea Rockshelter.
Article
How did humankind deal with the extreme challenges of the last Ice Age? How have the relatively benign post-Ice Age conditions affected the evolution and spread of humanity across the globe? By setting our genetic history in the context of climate change during prehistory, the origin of many features of our modern world are identified and presented in this illuminating book. It reviews the aspects of our physiology and intellectual development that have been influenced by climatic factors, and how features of our lives - diet, language and the domestication of animals - are also the product of the climate in which we evolved. In short: climate change in prehistory has in many ways made us what we are today. Climate Change in Prehistory weaves together studies of the climate with anthropological, archaeological and historical studies, and will fascinate all those interested in the effects of climate on human development and history.