Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Sandy Creek Shelter 1

This cave is in the Laura region of Cape York, Queensland. The occupation sequences here go back 32,000 years. Buried rock engravings and many stone tools, including a ground-edge axe on the bedrock at the base of the 3 m sequence. The evidence from this site of Pleistocene age and in nearby Sandy Creek Shelter 2

The earliest evidence of occupation at this site was a stone-knapping floor of 26 small artefacts of crystalline quartz near the base of the rubble. It was associated with charcoal dating to 32 000 BP. Above this level there are few artefacts until the occupation around 18 000 years ago.

The most important artefact from this site is the ground-edge axe. It was pink quartzite, 8.7 cm long, with a ground working edge, a slight waist and groove for hafting. it is very similar to ground-edge axes from Arnhem Land.

Buried petroglyphs are present at this occupation site, on the back wall of the shelter was a pecked panel, made up of pecked straight and radiating lines, curves, bird tracks and pits, part of which was 75 cm below the ground level of the occupation sediments. Later a sandstone fragment that is believed to have fallen from the frieze on the rear wall, was found that had pecked engraving. It was dated to 14,400 years ago, setting a minimum age for the site. Some believe they are of the Panaramitee tradition. The thick desert varnish as well as a high degree of patination, suggest the petroglyphs may be very old, possibly as old as the 32,000 year old occupation they appear to be associated with. This is further evidence of the possible great ago of the Panaramitee style.

A sandstone fragment, on which there is part of an unidentifiable engraved motif, has been dated to 12,620 +/- 370 BP (Beta 51089), calibrated minimum age of 14,400 BP. The fragment is believed to have fallen from a part of the wall where there are a number of engraved discs, pits, curved lines and bird tracks. Sections of the walls show signs of exfoliation. (Cole et al., 1995; Morwood, 1995a; Flood, 1997).

Sandy Creek Shelter 2

Dates from 3 haematite layers from between layers of an oxalate crust have been obtained. These results are believed to document painting events at 6,655 +/- 80 BP, 15,000-16,000 BP and 24,600 +/- 220 BP. No visible motifs were present. (Watchman, 1993, 2001; Cole et al., 1995; Flood, 1997; Morwood, 2002).

See Aboriginal Art - the Pilbara Engraved Stones

Sources & Further reading

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


AMS dating of rock art in the Laura Region, Cape York Peninsula, Australia - protocols and results of recent research

Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated  07/12/2013
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