Timeline of Sites Where Ochre has Been Found
in Sahul (Greater Australia)
Jinmium, Northern Territory (very
controversial, not accepted by most, if not all, workers in the
Carpenter's Gap, Windjana Gorge National Park, Napier Ranges,
Willandra Lakes Region, western New South Wales
- 40,000 Karolta 1, Yanta Springs, Wharton Hill,
Panaramitee North, South Australia. (dates no longer accepted)
- 35,000 Southwest Tasmania -
Mina, Ballawinne, Keyhole Cavern,
Mandu Mandu Creek Rockshelter, Cape Range Peninsula,
Springs, western New South Wales
- 32,000 Malangangerr,
Puritjarra Rockshelter, Cleland Hills, central Australia
I, Arnhem Land
Widgingarry Shelter 1, the Kimberley (late Pleistocene)
2, the Kimberley (late Pleistocene)
Walkunder Arch Cave, Chillago
Sandy Creek I, Laura Region, Cape York Peninsula
- 28,000 Malangine Cave, Mt Gambier Region,
Cape York Peninsula (possibly 30,000 BP)
- 25,000 Arnhem Land sites
Sandy Creek II, Laura Region
Jinmium, Northern Territory
- 22,000 Drual, Grampians-Gariwerd Region,
Cave, Hunter Island, Tasmania
Guinea II, Snowy River, eastern Victoria
Cave, South Australia
Laurie Creek, Northern Territory. The
date is no longer accepted by one of the original research group.
- 20,000 Tari Region, Papua New Guinea
Malakunanja II, Arnhem Land (possibly 50,000 years ago)
Widgingarry Shelter 2, the Kimberley
Man Shelter, Laura Region, Cape York Peninsula
Tree Valley, Dampier Region, Western Australia
Mackintosh 90/1 western Tasmania
- 17,000 Batari, Papua New Guinea
- 16,400 Kimberley Region
Cave, Central Queensland Highlands
Creek 1, Laura Region, Cape York Peninsula
- 11,500 Magnificent Gallery, Laura Region, Cape
Jinmium and Granilpi (this date is
- 10,000 Koongine Cave, Mt Gambier Region, South
- 10,000 Sturt's Meadows, western New South
- 10,000 Mickey Springs 34, North Queensland
- 9,000 Nangalor (Nangaluwurr)Baroalbar
Springs, Ngarraj Warde, Djobkeng, Snake site, Cannon Hill, Spirit
Cave (Angbangbang), Northern Territory.
- 7,000 Puntutjara Rockshelter, Warburton
Ranges, central Australia
- 6,000 Gnatalia Creek, Sydney Basin. A
date of about 30,000 is considered to have been contaminated.
- Jinmium, Northern Territory, a series of TL dates on quartz,
116,000 +/- 12,000 to 73,300 +/- 7,000. These are the earliest dates
recorded for ochre. For a buried sandstone slab that has pecked
cupules the earliest date is 58,000 +/- 6,900 BP & 75,000 +/- 7,000.
All these dates are very controversial and are not accepted as
accurate. Fullagar et a., (1996); sf, Roberts et al.,(1998);
Watchman et al., (2001). 7 AMS dates on charcoal from the upper 2/3
of the deposit at Jinmium ranged from 1,1100 +/- 60 BP to 3,300 +/-
100 BP. A series of OSL dates from individual quartz grains from the
deposit ranged from 300 +/- 30 BP to 22,000 +/- 1,200 BP. (Roberts
et al., 1998). Among 16 AMS dates on oxalate in the crust covering
cupules were 1,400 +/- 110 BP, and from 5,840 +/-
65 BP to 11,050 +/- 650 BP. The 11,000 BP date is considered
inconsistent because the disparity "between the thickness of the
crust and it sage wgen compared with the other crusts in the Keep
River region" (Watchman et al., 2000: 7). Watchman (2000); Watchman
Windjana Gorge National Park,
A pellet of red ochre was found between layers dating to 42,800 +/-
18,50 BP and 33,600 +/- 500 BP. The composition of this pellet
differed from that of the red substance found on a rock fragment
from the wall that was found in the same level. (O'Connor &
Fankhauser, 2001). The fragment from the wall had red pigment on it.
The earlier date was from 2 cm below the slab, the later date 5 cm
above the slab, giving a minimum age of 40,000 BP. The nature of the
painting as it occurred on the wall prior to the fall of the slab is
indeterminate. (O'Connor, 1995; Flood, 1997; O'Connor & Fankhauser,
2001; Moorwood, 2002)
Willandra Lakes Region, western New South Wales. This was a
grave containing a body that had been covered with red ochre that
dated to between 42,000 & 38,000, an OSL date of 40,000 +/- 2,000
BP. (Flood, 1995; Bowdler, 1998; Bowdler et al., 2003).
- Karolta 1, Yanta Springs, Wharton Hill,
Panaramitee North, South Australia. (dates no longer accepted).
A series of cation-ratio dates on desert varnish that covered the
engravings at the site, as well as AMS dates from the organic matter
beneath the varnish. The dates range from 43,140 +/- 3,000 BP to
1,510 +/- 50 BP. The dates have since been rejected by Dorn. (Dorn
et al., 1988; Nobbs & Dorn 1988, 1993; Dorn & Nobbs, 1992)
- Southwest Tasmania - Wargata Mina, Ballawinne, Keyhole Cavern.
These sites were occupied from about 35,000 BP until about 10,250
years ago, after which they were abandoned. On their walls were red
hand stencils, ochre smears and a roughly drawn circle. The wall
paintings were covered by a thin layer of calcite that is believed
to have been deposited in the terminal Pleistocene during a
wet phase. The "blood residue" in pigments from Wargata Mina gave
dates of 10,730 +/- 810 BP and 9,240 +/- 820 BP. These dates have
since been rejected by one of the original dating team. (Jones
et a., 1988; Cosgrove & Jones, 1989; Loy et al., 1990; McGowan et.
al., 1993; Gillespie, 1997; Porch & Allen, 1995; Moorwood, 2002)
Mandu Mandu Creek Rockshelter, Cape Range Peninsula,
northwestern Australia. Ochre is found throughout the layers of this
site, the high point being between 25,000 and 20,000 years ago.
- Devil's Lair,
southwestern Australia. The lowest level of the site dates to 31,400
+/- 1,500 BP and the most recent to 30,590 +/- 1,810 BP. Fragments
of red ochre have been found in the deposit, one of which came from
a hearth that was originally dated to 27,700 +/- 700 BP. A number of
large ferruginous nodules of ochre were found, one of which weighed
13 g. It is believed these nodules were brought to the cave by the
occupants, but smaller are thought to have possibly washed into the
cave. (Dortch & Merrilees, 1973; Dortch, 1984; Dortch & Dortch,
1996; Dortch, 2004)
Springs, western New South Wales. Ochre in this deposit dated to
between 33,600 +/- 530 BP and 30,280 +/- 450 BP. (Fullagar & Field,
1997; Field & Dodson, 1999).
- Riwi Cave,
southern Kimberley. A level dated to 31,860 +/- 450 contained ochre,
smaller amounts of ochre were found in a lower, undated, level. (Balme,
Arnhem Land. 447 nodules of ochre have been found in this deposit.
There are red, yellow, orange, white and purple ochre. The colour
range matches that of the ochre in a more recent midden at the site.
The middens date between 24,000 BP and 18,000 BP. 201 ochre pieces,
dating from 6,000 BP to recent rimes, have been found in the shell
midden, as well as a piece of shell that is believed Celoina
shell, that appears to have possibly been used as an ochre palette.
In a "transitional zone", between the sand deposits of the late
Pleistocene and the later midden deposits, were found another 115
ochre pieces. (Schrire, 1982).
Puritjarra Rockshelter, Cleland Hills, central Australia.
In levels dating to between 32,000 BP and 18,000 BP, in the centre
of the shelter floor, small fragments of ochre were found that
weighed 0.1 g. From 13,000 BP onwards, larger amounts of ochre were
found in deposits against the walls adjacent to a panel on the wall
of stencils and paintings. The earliest identifiable was found that
came from this period. It was a piece of very fin-grained yellow
pigment, 10 mm across, that is believed may have been a droplet of
thick paint that had been moulded on a small brush (Rosenfeld &
Smith, 2002). It contained about 30 % organic matter, whci is
consistent with it being prepared paint. (Smith, 1989; Rosenfeld &
- Nawamoyn &
I, Arnhem Land. Many pieces of ochre, many with use/grinding facets,
have been found from a period of time between 30,000 BP and 20,000
BP. (Schrire, 1982; Jones 7 Johnson, 1985b).
- Widgingarry Shelter 1, the Kimberley (late Pleistocene).
- Widgingarry Shelter
2, the Kimberley (late Pleistocene). There were 25 nodules of ochre
in this deposit, red, yellow and orange, that were dated levels
between 28,060 +/- 600 BP and 18,900 +/- 1,800 BP. (O'Connor, 1999).
- Walkunder Arch Cave, Chillago.
A "starburst" motif and the area next to red anthropomorophous
figures have been dated to 7,085 +/- 135 BP and 9,470 +/- 120 BP
using oxalate AMS on the mineral crusts covering the rock art.
Haematite and goethite layers in a gypsum-oxalate lamination
encrusting a boulder have been dated to 28,100 +/- 400 BP, 25,800
+/- 3280 BP, 16,100 +/- 130 BP and 10,400 +/- 90 BP. No visible
motifs. The art was apparently being applied to the walls sometime
before there was any accumulation in the floor deposited indicating
occupation. (Campbell & Mardaga-Campbell, 1993; Campbell et al.,
1996; Watchman & Hatte, 1996; Campbell, 2000; Watchman, 2001;
Sandy Creek I, Laura Region, Cape York Peninsula. 2 fragments of
striated red ochre dated to 32,000 BP and 2 fragments of yellow
ochre dated to 28,000 BP and 25,900 BP. (Cole et al., 1995; Morwood
et al., 1995a; Flood, 1997).
- Malangine Cave, Mt Gambier Region,
South Australia. The same sample of calcite taken from between 2
layers of rock art (finger markings and non-figurative engraved
motifs) gave a date of 28,000 +/- 2,000 BP using the uranium-series
method and 5,550 +/- 55 using radiocarbon dating. (Bednarik, 1999).
- Fern Cave,
Cape York Peninsula (possibly 30,000 BP). The lowest layer in this
deposit has been dated to 26,010 +/- 410 BP, but it is believed the
deposit actually extends back to about 30,000 BP according to
extrapolation based on the age-depth curve. (David, 1991).
- Arnhem Land sites. An age greater than 25,000 BP has been
suggested for painting of what is thought may be the extinct giant
marsupial Palorchestes. There are also paintings of
what some believe are other extinct marsupials, Zaglossus,
Sthenurus, and Thylacoleo. (Chaloupka, 1984;
Murray & Chaloupka, 1984).
- Sandy Creek II, Laura Region.
Dates from 3 haematite layers from between layers of an oxalate
crust have been obtained. The results It is believed they document
painting events at 6,655 +/- 80 BP, 15,000-16,000 BP and 24,600 +/-
220 BP. No visible motifs were present. (Watchman, 1993, 2001; Cole
et al., 1995; Flood, 1997; Morwood, 2002).
Jinmium, Northern Territory. 7 samples of charcoal from the
upper 2/3 of the deposit gave dates of 1,100 +/- 60 with the AMS
method. Using the OSL method produced dates ranging from 300 +/- 30
BP to 22,000 +/- 22,700 +/- 1,200 BP. (Roberts et a., 1998).
- Drual, Grampians-Gariwerd Region,
western Victoria. The lowest levels of the site have been dated to
22,140 +/- 160 BP and 22,160 +/- 150 BP. Ochre has been found in
these dated levels. (Bird et al., 1998).
- Cave Bay
Cave, Hunter Island, off the northwest coast of Tasmania. A
deposit dating to 22,750 +/- 420 BP contained quartz fragments with
adhering ochre. (Bowdler, 1984).
Guinea II, Snowy River, eastern Victoria. In this cave were
finger markings similar to those found in
Cave. The occupation deposit at the cave entrance has been dated
to between 21,900 +900/-800 BP and 4,660 +/- 110 BP. If the rock art
in the cave is of the same age as the occupation deposit it may be
of similar antiquity to the art in Koonalda Cave. (Ossa et al.,
Cave, South Australia. Finger markings and flint mining occurred
in this cave between 24,000 BP and 14,000 BP. A date from charcoal
found beneath a concentration of finger marks, that may have been
the remains of a torch, in a dark part of the cave. gave a date of
19,900 +/- 2,000 BP. (Maynard & Edwards, 1971; Wright, 1971a;
Creek, Northern Territory. Blood residue in the pigment gave a
date by AMS of 20,320 +3,100/-2,300 BP. The date is no longer
accepted by one of the original research group. (Loy et al., 1990;
Nelson, 1993; Gillespie, 1997; Watchman, 2001).
- Tari Region, Papua New Guinea. Finger markings at this site are
believed to be of Plesitocene age because of human interference in
the vegetation history of the area that has been dated to between
20,000 BP and 15,000 BP. (Ballard, 1992; Franklin, 1996).
Malakunanja II, Arnhem Land. A 1 kg piece of haematite and a red
ochre-stained grindstone were found at this site in levels dated to
about 18,040 +/- 300 BP. It is believed the site may be up to 50,000
years old. (Jones & Negerevich, 1985; Roberts et al., 1990;
- Widgingarry Shelter 2, the Kimberley.
In layers dated to between 28,060 +/- 600 BO and 18,900 +/- 1,800 BP
25 pieces of red, yellow and orange ochre were found. (O'Connor,
1999, Table 5.17).
Man Shelter, Laura Region, Cape York Peninsula. This earliest
layer in which ochre has been found in Level 8 that has been dated
to 18,200 +/- 450 BP. (Rosenfeld, 1981).
Tree Valley, Dampier Region, Western Australia. Among deeply
painted figurative engravings, trumpet shell was found that has been
dated to 18,510 BP (Lorblanchet, 1992).
Mackintosh 90/1 western Tasmania.
Ochre has been found in a layer between layers dated to 17,030 +/-
430 BP (Beta-45808 and 16,010 +/- 300 BP (Beta-46306. (Stern &
- Batari, Papua New Guinea. Ochre has been found throughout this
deposit that has been dated to 16,850 +/- 700 BP (ANU-40, but there
is doubt that this date applies to the occupation of the site. It
has been suggested that the pieces of red ochre, found throughout
the deposit, may actuall date from 8,230 +/- 190 BP. (ANU-38a).
(White, 1972; cf. Davidson & Noble, 1992, their Table 1).
- Kimberley Region. A series of 18 OSL dates were obtained from
mudwasp nests overlying paintings. These dates ranged from 23,800
+/- 2,400 BP, 17,500 +/- 1,800 BP & 16,400 +/- 1,800 BP. A series of
AMS dates obtained from mineral encrustations associated with
paintings give dates that conflict with the OSL dates, being 1,430
+/- 180 BP (OZB351) to 3,880 +/- 110 BP (OZB126). Roberts et a.,
1997; Watchman et al., 1997; Watchman, 2001).
Cave, Central Queensland Highlands. Ochre pieces that showed
signs of use, scratched, smoothed and with longitudunal grooves were
found, but according to Mulvaney & Joyce, 1965:202) "no utilised
fragments were found below 4 feet" dated to 4,000 BP (4,130 +/- 90
BP; GaK 523). The earliest date obtained at the site was 16,130 +/-
140 BO (NPL 68). (Mulvaney & Joyce, 1965; Mulvaney, 1975).
Creek 1, Laura Region, Cape York Peninsula. see 16. A sandstone
fragment, on which there is part of an unidentifiable engraved
motif, has been dated to 12,620 +/- 370 BP (Beta 51089), calibrated
minimum age of 14,400 BP. The fragment is believed to have fallen
from a part of the wall there are a number of engraved discs, pits,
curved lines and bird tracks. Sections of the walls show signs of
exfoliation. (Cole et al., 1995; Morwood, 1995a; Flood, 1997).
- Magnificent Gallery, Laura Region, Cape York Peninsula. In a
layer dated to 11,500 BP a single piece of striated was found. (Cole
et al., 1995).
- Jinmium and Granilpi (this date is
- Koongine Cave, Mt Gambier Region, South
Australia. Finfer marks have been found on the walls, but as there
is no evidence linking them to the dates obtained from occupation
levels, it has been assumed they are no older than 10,000 BP. A
number of dates have been obtained from the occupation levels, 9,710
+/- 180 BP (BETA-14861), 9,590 +/- 140 BP (BETA 14862), 9,240 +/-
100 BP (BETA-15996) & 8,270 +/- 400 BP (BETA-14859). (Frankel, 1986,
- Sturt's Meadows, western New South Wales. Dates have been
obtained from calcium carbonate covering desert varnish that covers
engravings suggests a possible minimum age. 10,410 +/- 170 BP
(BETA-13804) and 10,250 +/- 170 BP (BETA-13804). (Dragovich, 1986).
- Mickey Springs 34, North Queensland Highlands. A series of 7
vertical lines on the shelter wall that was sealed by a rockfall
between 9.920 +/- 250 BP (SUA 2248) and 8,080 +/- 100 BP (SUA2252).
Between 8,080 +/- 100 BP (SUA 2252) and 3,360 +/- 60 BP (Beta 11734)
there is a series of vertical lines and a bird track on the shelter
wall. (Morwood, 1990, 1992, 2002).
- Nangalor (Nangaluwurr), Baroalbar Springs, Ngarraj Warde,
Djobkeng, Snake site, Cannon Hill, Spirit Cave (Angbangbang),
Northern Territory. A series of 8 AMS dates were obtained on
oxalates in mineral crusts below and above rock paintings. The dates
range from 8,888 +/- 590 BP (ANU-4271), the minimum age, AMS dates
on oxalates on paint layers in a laminated mineral crust beneath
paintings were 3,470 +/- 120 BP (AA-9224) & 12,250 +/- 105 BP
(AA-9223). Both these dates are older than that of charcoal from the
junction between the gravel base and the first stratigraphic layer.
(Watchman, 1987, 1990, 2001; Chippindale & Tacon, 1993; Watchman &
Campbell, 1996; Flood, 1997).
- Puntutjara Rockshelter, Warburton
Ranges, central Australia. See 11.
- Gnatalia Creek, Sydney Basin. A
date of about 30,000 is considered to have been contaminated.
Charcoal from a large curvilinear motif gave a date of 6,085 +/- 60
BP (AA-5850) and 29,795 +/- 420 BP (AA-5851). The earlier sample if
believed to have been contaminated. (McDonald et al., 1990;
McDonald, 1998, 2000; Watchman, 2001).
The Pleistocene Peopling of Greater Australia: A Re-examination
Sources & Further reading
- Josephine Flood, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, J. B.
- Phillip J. Habgood & Natilie R. Franklin,
The revolution that
didn't arrive: A review of Pleistocene Sahul, Journal of Human
Evolution, 55, 2008