Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Keilor Skull

In 1940 a skull was unearthed in a Victorian quarry near the junction of Dry Creek and the Maribyrnong River, 2.5 km north of Keilor and 16 km north of Melbourne. It was found that the skull was contemporary with fauna from Keilor Terrace. The skull was encrusted by a 2 mm thick layer of carbonate. Once the crust was removed it was discovered that the skull was filled with yellow silt like loess. This proved to be identical with silt of the upper part of Keilor Terrace. The carbonate encrustation could only be accounted for by a zone of secondary carbonate deposition in the silt.

The cranium showed signs of being rolled in a water course, as had the Talgai skull, roughly contemporaneously with the deposition of the sediments. Therefore it wasn't from a later burial into the sediments. Chemical analysis of the skull demonstrated that its chemical composition was similar to that of the faunal remains in the same terrace, suggesting that the skull was in situ.

Radiocarbon dated the skull and a femur to about 13,000 BP. The skull has a full, rounded forehead and lacks the prominent brow ridges and projecting jaw found in the Takgai and Kow Swamp skulls. Some classify it as gracile, while others disagree, describing it as robust.

Excavations at Keilor Terrace has uncovered in the base of the D clay, the remains of extinct megafauna and some stone tools. There was disagreement about the stone objects found actually being stone implements. But an examination of the site turned up an unmistakable flake in the D clay. So there is some evidence for human activity at the base of the deposit. Radiocarbon dates have been found that place the lower levels of the D clay to 36,000 BP, but it is believed it could be as old as 45,000 BP.

In the mid-1960s it was thought Talgai and similar skulls represented an earlier, archaic form of Homo sapiens, appearing similar to the fossil skulls from Java. The picture was complicated by finds at Lake Mungo and Kow Swamp. 

Sources & Further reading

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


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 30/09/2011
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