Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

The Miriwun Rock Shelter

This site on the Ord River was excavated in 1971 as part of an emergency salvage program before the area was flooded by the Ord River irrigation scheme.

Small tools were found in the upper levels of the site. In the dark brown lower levels, from 18 000 to 3 000 years ago, a distinctive early assemblage was found. The find included thick, denticulate or notched flakes, core scrapers and small blades, pebble tools and quartzite fragments that could have been part of grindstones or anvils.

Among the artefacts of this site were 2 flakes from below the 18 000 year-old horizon. They had been struck from tektites, or Australites as they are known in Australia. 750 000 years ago a shower of tektites fell across Australasia. In Australia tektites are found in a swathe across the southern half of the continent, especially in Central Australia and southern inland parts of Western Australia.

One of the flakes was analysed and found to be from the Indochinite group, tektites from Indochina. This flake is the first of this type of tektite found in Australia. So there is the possibility, however remote, that this tiny flake was brought from Southeast Asia, as so far no unworked tektites of this kind have been found in Australia in association with occupation sites. The Miriwun tektite may be the first Asian artefact from the Ice Age period to be found in Australia.

There may be a long continuity of technological tradition in the Kimberley, in grooved, ground-edge axes and serrated flakes. The Kimberley serrated spear points are renowned for their fine crafting and their symmetry. They were made by the pressure-flaking technique, fine flakes are removed by use of wood or bone. Prior to European occupation fine-grained stone was used. This type of leaf-shaped, bifacially trimmed spear points has been used for at least 3000 years.

A feature of the Ord River sites is that organic material if often well preserved. The occupants of the Miriwun site hunted a wide variety of animals from the region. Among them were many eggshells of the pied or semi-palmeted goose (Anseranas semipalmata), this bird breeds in the wet season, so the site may have been a wet season camp from the Pleistocene to the European era.

The rock shelters at Widgingarri 1 and 2 north-east of Derby on the Kimberley coast, are believed to have been used from about 28 000 BP. At this time they would have been more than 100 km from the coast. Occupation apparently ceased at about 7500 BP. It is believed by some that the increasing aridity is the probable reason for the abandonment of the site.  

Sources & Further reading

Flood, Josephine, 2004, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, JB Publications.


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