Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Tasmanian Archaeology Human Skeletal Evidence

Tasmania Aboriginal people from the Late Pleistocene have been shown by the small amount of material that has been found to have a skeletal morphology that was of a gracile modern appearance. Nanwoon Cave in the Florentine River Valley in Tasmania contained a parietal bone that has a minimum age of 16,000 BP (Webb, 1988). At between 1 and 1.5 mm thick it was extremely thin-walled, and According to Webb there are not many muscle attachment sites marked on it. This parietal bone was found at the bottom of a small talus slope in Nanwoon Cave. The age of charcoal recovered from a subsurface context near the top of the deposit was used to estimate the age of the bone which had fallen out of an interior section of the cave deposit that was exposed (Cosgrove, 1999). According to Cosgrove et al. the remains are clearly from the Late Pleistocene., though excavations were not carried out.

The burial of a gracile human that was found on King Island has been dated to about 14,500 BP (Thorne & Sim, 1944). It differs from the Kow Swamp populations on the mainland that were more robust which have been dated to the same period, where the individuals had crania that were buttressed heavily and represent deliberate burials. Based on the more gracile crania the skeleton on King Island is said to be modern. As the bony elements were only loosely associated it is believed to represent a reburial, in which the tibia and 1 femur were together, with other elements being scattered in the deposit. Based on the robustness of the femur head there has been discussion on the sex of the skeleton (Brown, 1994; Thorne & Sim, 1994). It was argued that its length, that was relatively short, with a large femoral head, both reflect its attribution as male, and an adaptation to high-latitude environments, as are those found in glacial Europe, especially among Neanderthals. It is not clear if this individual is representative of the general population of Tasmania in the Late Pleistocene. As there is a high degree of morphological variability in skeletal form throughout southeastern Australia at the time, a better characterisation of the population morphology requires larger samples (Pardoe, 1986, 1991a).

Sources & Further reading

  1. Richard Cosgrove, Anne Pike-Tay & Wil Roebroeks in Dennell, Robin & Porr, Martin, eds., 2014, Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Search for Human Origins, Cambridge University Press.


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 01/09/2015
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