Settling in Sahul: Investigating environmental and human history interactions through micromorphological analyses in tropical semi-arid north-west Australia

Publication date: January 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 77
Author(s): Dorcas Vannieuwenhuyse, Sue O’Connor, Jane Balme
The Pleistocene continent of Sahul was first settled by people who arrived by watercraft from Island South East Asia about 50,000 years ago. Some of the oldest archaeological sites in Sahul are located in the southern Kimberley, in northwest Australia. This area lies within the southern zone of influence of the tropical monsoon and thus has always been highly sensitive to changes in monsoon dynamics over time. How these climatic changes have affected the colonisation and occupation of Australia is an important research theme in Australian archaeology. This paper illustrates the contribution and challenges of micromorphology in deciphering palaeoenvironmental and anthropogenic markers in a still largely unexplored Australian context. Micromorphological analysis of two archaeological sequences in the Napier Range (Carpenters Gap 1 and 3) provides a complementary and comprehensive reconstruction of the human-climate history in this area spanning nearly 50,000 years of Australian human presence. The results demonstrate an opportunistic use of sites by people through time, surprisingly independent of local climatic variation, suggesting highly flexible subsistence strategies.