Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Aboriginal Abandonment of Occupation Sites and Territorial Contraction during the LGM

Many sites have been identified that produced no cultural material during the LGM, which Hiscock suggests signals that the local area had been abandoned for the duration of the LGM (Hiscock, 1988a; Veth, 1989; O’Connor et al., 1993, 1998, 1999). Among the localities that had been abandoned were the Lake Eyre Basin and Strzelecki Desert (Lampert & Hughes, 1987), the Nullarbor Plain near Allen’s Cave (Hiscock, 1988a), the Central Australian Ranges near Kulpi Mara (Thorley, 1998), and sandy desert regions (Veth, 1989; O’Connor et al., 1993, 1998, 1999). In locations where only 1 or 2 sites had been excavated, evidence for abandonment of entire regions is equivocal, and Hiscock suggested only parts of those regions may have been unused during the LGM, and the size of the areas that were abandoned is unclear. The process may have been a gradual succession of local abandonments as the occupants of a territory retreated from landscapes that had become risky. An example of such a process is on a long peninsula on the west coast where a cultural hiatus has been found at such archaeological sites as Manu Mandu Creek (Morse, 1988, 1996, 1999), Jansz and C99 (Przywolnik, 2005), where use of some of the sites ceased more than 30,000 years ago, though others continued to be visited until 25,000 years ago, revealing that humans reduced their use of the region over a long period leading up to complete abandonment at the LGM (Przywolnik, 2005).

Humans persisted through parts of the LGM in a number of regions of the inland in refuges. These refuges were typically in uplands where water sources were recharged by aquifers (Hiscock, 1984, 1988a; M.A. Smith, 1987; Lamb, 1996). People would have exploited broader territories from reliable bases, contracting their activities to small, better-watered and more reliable resource zones as they abandoned portions of the landscape as they became high risk areas. Fern Cave is an example at which more local rock was used in the making of artefacts during the LGM (Lamb, 1996). At Milly’s Cave (Marwick, 2002) in the northwest there is a similar example where emphasis on manufacturing stone artefacts from local rocks during the LGM indicated that foragers had reduced their territorial range at that time, comparable to the response found at Lawn Hill.

Puritjarra Rockshelter in central Australia is one of the best examples of a territory being reorganised during the LGM. It was concluded (Smith, 19989c) that there had been a contraction of core foraging territory in the LGM as the foragers exploited the resources found in the springs and gorges near the site.  

Foragers had been bringing ochre to the shelter throughout prehistory, and the origin of ochre at each period of time indicates the use of the landscape surrounding the Rockshelter. Humans living at Puritjarra had been using ochre from Karrku, which is 125 km to the northwest, since at least 39,000 years ago (Peterson & Lampert, 1985; M.A. Smith et al., 1998). At the beginning of the extreme conditions of the LGM the pattern of the procurement of ochre changed; use of local ochres increased as use of the Karrku ochre decreased. It is indicated by this that the occupants of Puritjarra had reduced the distance and/or frequency of their travels across the sandy desert lands separating Karrku from Puritjarra, Possibly venturing into those environments only after rain when the area was less risky. The occupants of Puritjarra emphasised locally available resources in the upland landscape that was more reliable during the LGM.

According to Hiscock a great deal about the nature of hunter-gatherer life during the LGM can be inferred from the response of the inhabitants of the inland to the LGM. It is demonstrated by the abandonment of local areas, possibly entire regions, and maybe the extinction of groups of humans, that the foragers of the Pleistocene had been subjected to the extreme environmental conditions of the time. Sometimes patches of abundant water within ancient desert landscapes served as refuges, sustaining groups through prolonged, unpredictable droughts, though people abandoned their territories where there were no adequate refuges, moving to adjoining landscapes where more water was available and predictable sources, and this process of inter-regional migration may have precipitated large social and economic disruption.

Sources & Further reading

  1. Hiscock, Peter, 2008, Archaeology of Ancient Australia, Taylor & Francis.


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 16/03/2017
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