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Box Gully Aboriginal Occupation South of the Murray River Before the LGM

At Box Gully on the northwest tip of the Lake Tyrrell lunette archaeological investigations have uncovered the first documentation of the extensive region between the Murray River and the Tasmanian highlands dating to before 30,000 calBP. Richards et al. carried out 5 new radiocarbon determinations on charcoal associated with cultural material in the palaeosols ranged from about 32,000 calBP near the bottom to about 26,600 calBP near the top, and they are supported by both conventional radiocarbon and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dates that were independently obtained during geomorphic investigations of Box Gully. Within the palaeosols were hearth features, stone artefacts and the remains of bettong, hare-wallabies, shingle-backed lizards, emu and freshwater mussel. Review of the archaeological record of the Late Pleistocene from the western Murray Basin allows the material recovered from Box Gully to be placed in a human occupation context of adaptation to severe climatic stress in the lead up to the LGM. After about 27,000 calBP climatic conditions deteriorated still further and localities that included Willandra Lakes, Lake Tandou and the Lower Darling were frequented much less heavily than they had been up to that time, or as occurred at Lake Tyrrell, they were abandoned. Sustained occupation of the Murray River valley occurred at the same time, as did initial occupation of the southern Victorian rock shelters.


It has been demonstrated by the Box Gully excavations that Aboriginal occupation occurred there before the LGM , over a period from about 32,000-26,600 calBP. As well as extending the known period of Aboriginal occupation of the southern portion of the Mallee by more than 20,000 years, it is the first documented evidence of Aboriginal occupation south of the Murray River and north of Tasmania earlier than 30,000 BP. Evidence was also found of possible earlier occupation before 40,000 BP.

At Box Gully the main occupation occurred during a period of climatic instability leading up to the extreme drying and temperature depression of the LGM (Bowler, 1998; Gillespie, 1998).

Significant pelletal clay dune formation did not occur at Lake Tyrrell, which was less salty than at present, at it contained at least season water, and at the top of the lunette a stable, vegetated land surface formed (Macumber, 1991: 58,286; Bowler & Teller, 1986: 58). Richards et al. suggest fresh water may have been present at this time at nearby Soaks, with the result that although there was a harsh climate, there would have been a variety of plant and animal resources available.

According to Richards et al. at Box Gully the evidence from Stratum 4 needs to be considered to be a composite record of an unknown number of independent occupation events. Open fire places and ovens for heating and cooking purposes were used by the people camping at this site, which they possibly did in the late autumn-winter. The foods consumed at the site were such things as bettongs, hare-wallabies, shingle-backed lizard, emu eggs and freshwater mussels, which all would be expected to be available in the vicinity of the site. Tiger Quoll and other predators were attracted to the site to scavenge the food remains. Evidence of stone working activities mostly indicate low intensity, early stage reduction of material that had been brought to the site from elsewhere in a partially processed form. Evidence at this site of human occupation is consistent with small-scale, short-term, seasonal visits to Box Gully that repeatedly occurred over thousands of years.

Sources & Further reading 

  1. Richards, T., C. Pavlides, K. Walshe, H. Webber and R. Johnston (2007). "Box Gully: new evidence for Aboriginal occupation of Australia south of the Murray River prior to the last glacial maximum." Archaeology in Oceania 42(1): 1-11.


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last Updated 21/12/2015 
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