Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Roonka Flat

Near Blanchetown, South Australia, it is in the Murray River Valley. This occupation site is believed to have been used as an open air camp at times of the annual flood of the Murray River. The site was excavated from 1968-1983. The earliest charcoal from 4 hearths associated with stone cobble cooking structures and freshwater mussel shells, found at this site have been dated to 18,500 +/- 350 years ago. Tools from the Kartan industry have been found at this site.

The site appears to have been used only as a cemetery between about 7,000 and 4,000 years ago, then after about 4,000 years ago was being used as a habitation and cemetery site. There was a wide range of mortuary practices and some of the burials included grave goods.

Human Remains

Excavation of this site has revealed a burial of a man and a small child. The man was wrapped in a skin cloak fastened with bone pins. A pile of small bones from the feet of animals suggest the cloak was fastened at his shoulders by the paws of the animals still attached to the pelts. Bird bones were found near the body, suggesting that the cloak may have been fringed with feathers.

Burial No. 108 contained a skeleton, the skull of which had a double-stranded band of notched wallaby teeth on the forehead. It is more than 4,000 years old.

Luminescence dating of the archaeological and human burial site2

At the East Bank site several fireplaces were dated by thermoluminescence (TL) in 1983. Sandy dune sediments from East bank were also analysed by TL, depths down to the base at 2.6 m being dated. The authors2 re-dated the site using more up to date methods, in this case single aliquot regeneration dose protocol. The results confirmed the original TL ages, providing an age framework for the archaeological and geological aspects of the Roonka site. The archaeological description of the dune structure were confirmed by the new ages, indicating the top 20% of the dune is the Bunyip Formation from the Holocene. The lower part of the site has been assigned to the Woorinen Formation, that was formed during and after the last glacial maximum. Between about 20,000 and 16,000 BP burials took place at East Bank that were substantially earlier than those on the Roonka Flat, though consistent with the earliest occupation evidence on Roonka Flat. They are one of the few dated burials from the Pleistocene in Australia. It is not known if the individuals buried in the site were gracile or robust. 

Sources & Further reading

  1. Flood, Josephine, 2004, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, JB Publications.
  2. Robertson, G. B., and J. R. Prescott. "Luminescence Dating at the Archaeological and Human Burial Site at Roonka, South Australia." Quaternary Science Reviews 25, no. 1920 (10// 2006): 2586-93.


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated 10/11/2012

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