Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Devil's Lair                                                                                                                                 

This is a cave in the far southwest of Western Australia, 5 km from the present coast and 20 km north of Cape Leeuwin. At the time of low sea level it would have been about 25 km from the sea. Its single chamber has an earth floor that is covered by flowstone, a sheet of stone, about 20 cm thick, that occasionally forms on the floors of limestone caves. The upper levels contained large numbers of bones from the Tasmanian devil, hence its name. It was originally excavated by paleontologists looking for animal remains, as these are common in limestone caves. Once it was realised there were artefacts in the cave, excavations were taken over by archaeologists. Possible artefacts and a human incisor were found. The artefact-containing lower levels have been dated to about 33,000 BP.

Bones of a wide range of animals were found, some charred, and in one case in an intact hearth, indicating that it wasn't the kill of a predator. Some of the bones, of giant kangaroos, Protemnodon & Sthenurus, had been cracked and a couple have possibly been used as tools. If this proves to be true it will be the first definite evidence from Australia that the early inhabitants hunted megafauna. See Cuddie Springs.

A number of limestone plaques have been found in this deposit. B3651 has a geometrical design, a trapezoidal shape, formed of intersecting incisions. This plaque was found in a hearth that has been dated to between 12,900 and 13,200 years ago. It was originally dated to 11,960 +/- 140 and 12,050 +/- 140 years ago. These original dates have since been rejected, being replaced by 13,050 +/- 90 years ago. Plaque 3652 came from a layer dated to between 24,950-26,050 years ago. The original date for the site, 20,400 +/- 1,000, has been replaced by 25,500 +/- 275.

According to Turney et al. (2001), 4 independent dating techniques, OSL, ESR, U-series dating of flowstone and C 14 dating of the carbonate in emu eggshells, all agree with the chronology that indicate the site was occupied by about 50,000 BP.

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 nodules are thought to have possibly washed into the cave. (Dortch & Merrilees, 1973; Dortch, 1984; Dortch & Dortch, 1996; Dortch, 2004).

See Aboriginal Occupation of south central Tasmania

Table of notational pieces

Sources & Further reading

  1. Josephine Flood,  2004, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, JB Publications,
  2. Phillip J. Habgood & Natilie R. Franklin, 2008, The revolution that didn't arrive: A review of Pleistocene Sahul, Journal of Human Evolution, 55,


  1. Early Human Occupation at Devil's Lair, Southwestern Australia 50,000 Years Ago Quaternary Research, Vol.55, Issue 1, January 2001, p 3-13.




Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 03/11/2013


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