First Australians, Last Megafauna? Modern Approaches to a Prehistoric Puzzle
Investigating the interactions of humans and a range of extinct animals is being undertaken at the Pleistocene archaeological site of Cuddie Springs in central northern NSW. In collaboration with the Aboriginal community in Brewarrina, 1 to 2 field seasons per year are currently being pursued to explore the relationship between cultural material and the fossil remains of megafauna such as Diprotodon and the giant flightless bird, Genyornis newtoni. Analysis of the stone tools and bones aims to quantify the range of animals found here and also the likely subsistence strategies of the Aboriginal people that used this area. In addition to the Cuddie Springs work, a Rare Earth Element study of the bones from the only other site known to contain stone tools and bones of extinction animals – Nombe Rockshelter –is being undertaken to investigate the stratigraphic integrity of the site.
Collaborators: Dr Melanie Fillios (ACMM, The University of Sydney), Brewarrina Local Aboriginal Land Council, Dr Clive Trueman, Southampton University, U.K., Mr David Bray (School of Chemistry, The University of Sydney), Dr Mary-Jane Mountain (Australian National University).
Functional Investigation of Flaked and Ground Stone Tools and Studies of Ancient Starch
The functional studies have enabled us to identify the range of tasks associated with the last use of these artefacts. Technological, use wear and residue studies have yielded a range of evidence to assess the site function in each of the Cuddie Springs occupation horizons. The analysis of material from Kuk Swamp in New Guinea, has shown that taro starch grains have survived on the surface of flaked artefacts recovered from 10,000 year old occupation horizons. Investigations of the archaeology of the North Queensland rainforests just to the south and southwest of Cairns, has demonstrated that the incised grinding stones common to this area were used for processing toxic starchy nuts. These analyses have been instrumental in developing the investigation of ancients starches as indicators of plant use as well as formulating methodologies for the identification of these microfossils, most of which only survive in small quantities. In conjunction with phytolith analyses the study of plant microfossil is a powerful tool in archaeological studies.
Collaborators: Dr Richard Cosgrove (La Trobe University), Dr Richard Fullagar (Scarp Consulting
Dr Tim Denham (Monash University), Dr Beth Gott (Monash University), Dr Lisa Kealhofer (Santa Clara University, California), Mr Braddon Lance (Macquarie University).
Taphonomy of Modern and Fossil Bone
There are a range of factors that determine the final composition of a fossil bone assemblage when it is recovered by archaeologists, palaeontologists or other researchers. For the Australian context, little research has been undertaken into open site taphonomy. This project investigates a range of open sites, particularly ephemeral lakes or waterholes in order to determine how and why some bones are preserved and others disappear. A significant amount of research has been undertaken on other continents, with widely different fauna, and this project aims to redress this balance not only to provide investigate modern analogues but also to determine the validity of models developed for places like North America or Africa applied to Australian sites. The study will investigate not only the gross physical changes to bones, but also investigate the ultrastructural changes that are wrought through time.