Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Timeline of Sites Containing Beads and Pendants in Sahul (Greater Australia)
  1. 42,000    Riwi Cave, the Kimberley
  2. 39,500    Buang Merabak, New Ireland                                                                                        
  3. 32,000    Mandu Mandu Creek Rockshelter, Cape Range Peninsula, northwestern Australia.
  4. 20,000    Devil's Lair, southwest Western Australia.
  5. 12,000    Kow Swamp, northern Victoria
  6.   8,000    Lake Nitchie, western New South Wales
  7.   8,000    Roonka, South Australia
  8. 14,000    Allens Cave, Nullarbor Plain, South Australia
  9.   9,800    Liang Nabulei Lisa, Aru Islands
  10.   8,000    Vlaming Head Middens I & IIa and North West Cape Midden I, Cape Range Peninsula, Western Australia
  11.   7,000    Nawamoyn, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.
  12.   7,000    Cooma, New South Wales Southern Tablelands
  13.   8,000    David's Dune, WallPolla Island, northern Victoria
  14.   8,000    Matenbek, New Ireland.
  15.                Carpenter's Gap Rockshelter 1, the Kimberley   


  1. Riwi Cave, the Kimberley. Fragments of shell (Dentalium sp.) with smoothed openings, possibly resulting from being worn on a string as beads of a necklace. On 1 fragment there was a residue thought to be ochre, another had a a fibre suggesting it had been on a string dating to at least 29,550 +/- 290 BP (Wk-7896) to 40,700 +/- 16\260 BP ANUA-13006) (>40,000), and possibly 42,000 years ago. (Balme, 2000; Balme & Morse, 2006).
  2. Buang Merabak, New Ireland. A perforated tiger shark tooth dating from 39,500-28,000 BP. (Leavesley, 2007).
  3. Mandu Mandu Creek Rockshelter, Cape Range Peninsula, northwestern Australia. 22 shell beads (Conus sp.) in the basal occupation horizon dated to 32,000 BP, between 34,200 +/- 1050 BP (Wk 1513)and 30,000 +/- 800 BP (Wk 1576). The Cunus shells were about 20 cm below a date of 22,100 +/- 500 BP (Wk 1575). Of the 3 cone shell fragments, 1 appeared to have been modified. Their estimated age is 21,000 BP. A scaphopod shell (Dentalliidae sp.) and a fragment of either pearl oyster or Nautilus shell were found in late Pleistocene deposits. From ethnography they have been known to be worn as ornaments such as pendants (Morse, 1993a,b).
  4. Devil's Lair, southwest Western Australia. 3 beads made from macropod long bones dating from 20,000-12,000 BP. The original date was 17,370 +/- 290 BP (SUA-1248). It has been redated to 19,160 +/- 380 BP (SUA-976) & 19,835 +/- 75 BP (AA 19691). A small, tapering bone spliter that had been perforated has been dated to 12,000 BP. It is believed it may be a pendant. Other short pieces of perforated bone with unrounded ends are thought to have possibly been bead blanks; an oblong bone, 19 mm long, covered with scratches, possibly to be an ornament covered with gum; what is thought may be a broken bead blank that had a bone sliver inserted, It has been suggested the sliver may have been used to clean out the marrow cavity, that dated to 12,000 BP; a naturally perforated marl object that is thought was possibly a pendant. (Dortch & Merrilees, 1973; Dortch, 1979,1984; Dortch & Dortch, 1996; Bednarik, 1997, 1998; Dortch, 2004).
  5. Kow Swamp, northern Victoria. In a burial dated to about 12,000 BP was found a headband made from kangaroo incisor teeth that had traces of resin still on them, indicating that they had been stuck together. Burials at the site dated from between 14,000 BP and 9,000 BP. 19,160 +/- 360 and 19,835 +/- 75 years ago. Dorch & Merrilees (1973); Dorch (1979,1984);Dorch & Dorch (1996); Dorch (2004).The burials had been dated to between 14,000 BP and 9,000 years ago. Flood (1995).
  6. Lake Nitchie, western New South Wales. A necklace made from 178 Tasmanian devil's teeth was found in burial that dated to 6,820 +/- 200 years ago. A hole had been ground and gouged out of each of each tooth so they could be threaded on a string. (Mackintosh, 1971; Flood, 1995).
  7. Roonka, South Australia. In the Roonka cemetery site were elaborate burials that date from the early to late Holocene. Roonka Phase II dated to 8,000 - 4.000 years ago. 6,910 +/- 450 BP. A large fossil oyster shell with holes drilled close together, dated to 6,910 +/- 450 BP (ANU-1408), was recovered from Grave 89. 2 native cat (Dasyurid) mandibles were recovered from Grave 63 had what appear to be drilled attachment holes. Roonka Phase III dates from later than 4,000 BP. In grave 108 were a child and a man. The man had a double-stranded band of notched wallaby teeth around his forehead and a skin cloak that was fastened with bone pins and the paws of an animal pelt at the shoulder. He had a second band of wallaby incisors on his left shoulder. On the child were a bird skull pendant and a reptile vertebrae necklace. The child's feet had been stained with ochre. (Pretty, 1997; Flood, 1995; Pate et al., 1995).
  8. Allens Cave, Nullarbor Plain, South Australia. It has been suggested that an abalone shell (Haliotis lacgivata) found in the deposit was transported to the site as an ornament, possibly a pendant. 13-14,000 BP (Cane, 2001).
  9. Liang Nabulei Lisa, Aru Islands. In the terminal Pleistocene deposit was found a shell (Terebra subulate) pendant. It had a hole drilled opposite the opercular opening   9.630 +/- 60 BP (OZD697) and 9,750 +/- 60 BP (OZD698). (Bulbeck, 2006a; O'Conor et al., 2006a).
  10. Vlaming Head Middens I & IIa and North West Cape Midden I, Cape Range Peninsula, Western Australia. 3 bailer pendant fragments have been found, of which 2 were drilled and the 3rd had all its edges smoothed by grinding. The earliest date obtained for other sites on the peninsula are  7,810 +/- 115 BP (SUA 1735), most <6,000 years old. (Przwolnik, 2003).
  11. Nawamoyn, Arnhem Land. 3 shells were found with holes drilled in their bases, 1 was estuarine (Geloina sp.), the other 2 were marine (Anadara sp.). It is believed they may have been pendants. 1 of the Anadara shells had been covered with red ochre. The shell midden they were found in began accumulating around 7,110 +/- 130 BP (ANU-53). (Schrire, 1982).
  12. Cooma, New South Wales Southern Tablelands. In a burial dated to about 7,000 BP, were found 327 pierced kangaroo and wallaby incisors that were scattered throughout the grave. They are believed to have been part of a necklace. The teeth had been pierced from both sides in the root area of the tooth. Some were polished, suggesting that had been rubbing together on a string. (Feary (1996).
  13. David's Dune, Wallpolla Island, northern Victoria. A necklace of pierced Tasmanian devil canine teeth was found in Burial 20 that has been suggested to be similar to a necklace found at Lake Nitchie. It has been dated to 7,140 +/- 200 BP (ANU-8647). Pardoe, 1995).
  14. Matenbek, New Ireland. A small shell bead has been dated to about 8,000 BP. Shells and shell fragments have been found with holes drilled ijn them and with modified edges. It has been suggested that these may have been used for utilitarian purposes, such as the manufacture of fish hooks. They date from the late Pleistocene and the earlier Holocene. (Smith & Allen, 1999).
  15. Carpenter's Gap Rockshelter 1, the Kimberley. Shell (Dentalium sp.) beads found in Pleistocene deposits. (O'Connor, 1995).


Package of cultural Innovations


Sources & Further reading

Phillip J. Habgood & Natilie R. Franklin, The revolution that didn't arrive: A review of Pleistocene Sahul, Journal of Human Evolution, 55, 2008


The revolution that didn't arrive: A review of Pleistocene Sahul


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last Updated 04/03/2012

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