|12 April 2008
Aboriginal site among Australia's oldest
Aboriginal tools found in Western Australia and dating back 35,000 years are surprisingly sophisticated and varied, archaeologists say. And they believe the site may yet reveal artefacts up to 45,000 years old, making it older than the internationally famous Mungo Man site found in New South Wales.
Archaeologists uncovered the ancient tools at a rock overhang on the site of the multibillion-dollar Hope Downs iron ore mine. The site, which is about 300 kilometres south of Port Hedland, has been named Djadjiling by the Banyjima people. Consultant archaeologist Dr Neale Draper says the site is the earliest dated archaeological site in the Pilbara region, which until now only had 20,000 years of documented Aboriginal occupation. "The site is potentially amongst the oldest investigated in Australia, and further radiocarbon determinations will undoubtedly resolve this issue," says Draper, managing director of Australian Cultural Heritage Management. "The cave is a rock shelter measuring 10 by eight metres, with a roof 1.5 metres high. The 1.5-metre excavation pit goes down 2.2 metres to the bedrock below, and there is evidence of Aboriginal occupation down to two metres deep," he said.
Draper says charcoal samples from the site were sent to the University of Waikato, in New Zealand, and radiocarbon dated to 35,000 years old. But he says there is about another 12 centimetres of sediment yet to be revealed. "Considering about 10 centimetres of sediment separates the 25,000 and 35,000-year mark there could be material dating back another 10,000 years," Draper says. The researchers hope to have a definitive date within the next few weeks.
He says no bones have been found at the site, but there are plenty of seeds, bark and other plant remains. Analysis will now begin on the artefacts and plant remains and it is hoped residues of fat, blood and wood fibres on the stones may reveal what the tools were used for. Draper believes the Djadjiling site may change archaeologists' ideas about how the hunter-gatherer people of that region lived. In particular, he says, the stone tools 'might be a bit more sophisticated and varied than Australian archaeologists might suspect'. "The most significant artefacts we found are a core (piece of stone) and two flakes (from it) at the site layer dated to 35,000 years ago," Draper said. "The reason these are significant is because the flakes refit onto the core. This demonstrates the way early Aboriginal peoples manufactured stone artefacts." Since these artefacts refitted together, it showed that the site had not been previously disturbed.
The site is also revealing interesting data on climate changes, Draper says, with a marked change in use of the site about 18,000 years ago, a time that coincided with the peak of the last global ice age. Parker says the site should be preserved and wants national heritage and archaeological groups to support the campaign. Discussions are now under way between the mining company and the traditional owners.
Sources: The Age.com.au (7 April 2008), ABC Science (8 April 2008)
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