Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Mining & quarrying in Prehistoric Australia                                                                      

The earliest evidence of mining and quarrying from Sahul, as noted by Habgood & Franklin in their study, was at about 24,000 years ago.

During the last Pleistocene, there doesn't appear to have been much stone mining and quarrying being carried out in Australia. The probable reason is that raw material was easily found in the local area or from short distances away. Many of the stone implements used at that time were simply naturally shaped pieces of fractured rock found on the surface of the ground or river stones (Hiscock, 1996; Hiscock & Allen, 2000). Obsidian was being transported to the offshore islands of the Bismarck Archipelago from New Britain in the late Pleistocene, at that time part of the Australian continent, at a time of low sea level. The recipients fashioned the obsidian into the implements they needed (Allen et al., 1989; Summerhayes & Allen, 1993; Gosden, 1995; Fredericksen, 1997; White & Harris, 1997).

Only 1/3 of prehistoric Australian stone quarries have been found to show evidence of mining or quarrying from the late Pleistocene, most of the known stone quarries in Australia that have been dated show only evidence of mining or quarrying being carried out in the late Holocene (Hiscock, 1996). Most of these quarries seem to have been used for the acquisition of raw materials for implements such as stone hatchets (Hiscock, 1996; Smith,, 1998; Gibbs & Veth, 2002).

There are known sites of extensive ochre mining from the late Holocene, such as at Bookartoo (Parachilna), South Australia, Wilgie Mia, Western Australia, and the Campbell Ranges, Northern Territory (Hiscock, 1996; Mulvaney & Kamminga, 1999).

Koonalda Cave is the oldest dated stone quarry known from Sahul. This cave was being mined between about 24,000 and 14,000 years ago (Wright 1971a). Another very old mine, as indicated by indirect evidence, is Karlie-ngoinpool Cave, Mt Gambier Region, where silicate mining is believed to have occurred in the late Pleistocene (Bednarik, 1984).

At the Puritjarra Rockshelter, ochre has been recovered from layers dated to 32,000 - 13,000 years ago. This ochre has been sourced to the Karrku quarry, about 150 km from the Puritjarra site. This indicates that larger scale ochre mining was taking place in the Pleistocene (Smith, 1996; Smith et. al., 1998; Gibbs & Veth, 2002). Ochre is believed to have been extracted on a small scale throughout Sahul during the late Pleistocene.

Spongolite was quarried at Rebecca Creek, on the west coast of Tasmania, 100 km from the Rocky Cape caves where it was used in the manufacture of stone implements. 

Ochre Mining
Flint Mining
Timeline of mining & quarrying in prehistoric Australia
Package of cultural Innovations
           Silcrete quarrying

Sources & Further reading

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


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 21/10/2016


Aboriginal Australia
Anthropological History
Aboriginal History
Aboriginal Occupation Sites-Tasmania
Aboriginal physical type
Archaeological Sites
Birrigai Shelter
Fire-Stick Farmers
Genetic Evidence
H. erectus near Australia
Cloggs Cave
The First Boat People
Evidence from Lake George
Regional Continuity Theory
Social Organisation
Trade - Macassan Traders
Journey Back Through Time
Experience Australia
Aboriginal Australia
National Parks
Photo Galleries
Site Map
                                                                                           Author: M.H.Monroe  Email:     Sources & Further reading