Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Kakadu, Occupation Sites Along the Base of the Cliffs

Rock Shelters have been found at the base of the escarpment at Kakadu, 8 of which contain evidence of occupation dating from the Late Pleistocene. The occupants of these rock shelters occupied the upland valleys and escarpments during the wet season, then in the dry season they dispersed over the plains where they lived and hunted, just as their descendants living there did in the recent past. Being adapted to the local environment the ancient population used it intensively, and as part of their subsistence activities, burned the country as vegetation was cleared and the plains below were filled by sand washing from the cliffs. In the cooler, drier climate the bush was thinned as a result of the frequent burning.

Large numbers of stone tools have been recovered from the caves and outliers across the escarpment. At Nauwalabila more than 30,000 flakes have been found at a density of 12,000 flakes per m3. Sequential occupation periods have been revealed by the deposition, with seasonal settlement and seasonal religious relationships with favoured locations being suggested across the millennia by pulses of stone artefacts and charcoal. Quartz and chert were used by the inhabitants of these caves to make woodworking tools and the preparation of food, and they brought volcanic rocks to the caves for grinding stone axes. Chips from ancient axes, dated to 30,000 BP, have been recovered from Nauwalabila, and other ground-stone axes, that are more than 20,000 years old, have been found at other sites along the escarpment. At Nawarla Gabarnmang, western Arnhem Land, a fragment of a ground-edge axe was found dating to at least 35,400 BP, making them the earliest-known ground stone axe in the world, in other parts of the world the earliest known axes of this type have been found in the Neolithic of Europe dating to about 25,000 BP. These tools were used for felling trees and serious wood working activities, their invention and use in Australia being a technological revolution.

Ochre was also being ground on mobile grindstones and in cupolas in the sandstone of the bedrock by the inhabitants of Arnhem Land. Indirect signs of the artistic temperament of these people have been found by their use of ochre crayons 20,000-30,000 years ago. A canvas for their artistic expression were the escarpments of Arnhem land where there are thousands of galleries, art being found in every cavity, recess, shelter and cavern. Up to the time of publishing of Cane's book more than 6,000 galleries have been recorded, though the total has yet to be counted. So far 923 galleries have been counted in Western Arnhem Land, with more than 44,000 individual art works being found. Compared with this the Palaeolithic art 'revolution' in Western Europe is comprised of 275 sites with a bit over 10,000 individual representations.

Sources & Further reading

  1. Cane, Scott, 2013, First Footprints: The epic story of the first Australians, Allen & Unwin.

Scott Cane has included in his book, written as a companion to the ABC TV series of the same name, a number of stories from his days living among Aboriginal people in the desert and moving around with them.


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated  29/11/2013
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