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Gledswood 1 Rockshelter

Archaeological investigations at the Gledswood 1 rockshelter

Australian archaeologists have long been focused on establishing minimum ages for Indigenous occupation of the different environmental regions of Australia, and for exploring the interaction and responses of people with their environments (eg Allen 1989, 1994; Allen and O’Connell 2003; Bird et al. 2002; Chappell et al. 1996; Kershaw 1997; Miller et al. 1999; Roberts et al. 1994). However, to date such debates have been broad scale in nature and our understanding of how such interactions actually occur at the regional and local level is poor. Despite recognition that this region potentially has a very long and important history of Aboriginal occupation (eg Horton 1981; O’Connor and Veth 2000), archaeologists still know very little about when people started to utilising inland NW QLD, and how they responded to the highly variable climatic regimes of the late Quaternary period.

Only limited archaeological research has been carried out in inland NW QLD (cf. Ulm et al. 2001), although this situation has recently begun to change, with a number of exploratory projects having been facilitated and conducted through the WVAC (eg Wallis 2003a, 2003b; 2004a, 2004b, 2004c; Wallis et al. 2004a, 2004b). Despite there now being increased understanding about site types and patterning in the region, the work to date has focused on survey and recording, with minimal excavation occurring. Most excavations conducted have been restricted to open hearth sites in the low-lying plains country, and have not produced dates beyond the last 2000 years (eg Domett et al. 2006; Wallis et al. 2004a). Yet a handful of excavations in upland country to the south and east of the Norman River have established that occupation of the broad region extends to at least 15,000 bp (eg Davidson et al. 1991; Morwood 1990, 1992), and suggest there was intensification in occupation during the mid-Holocene period. As few sites in the vicinity of the Norman River have been excavated or dated, it is unclear if occupation in this area is of a similar or different antiquity to those in the surrounding low lying plains and nearby upland areas, and whether the Norman River was indeed a refuge during the LGM, or more broadly how people in this region responded to climatic deterioration and subsequent amelioration.

This project aims to investigate the LGM and post-glacial period human-environment relationships in the Norman River region of inland NW QLD and to test colonisation and occupation models through archaeological excavations at the rockshelter site of Gledswood 1.

From an Indigenous perspective, this research will assist the Wanamara people establish empirical evidence that supports their claims for their ancestors having always been in this country. It is also important in allowing them to play a leading and controlling role in the research that is undertaken in their country, as well as providing them with further opportunities to spend time on country maintaining traditional links to the land and develop their skills in site surveying, documentation and excavation.

FIELD TEAM

Gledswood Shelter was briefly visited in 2005, with Stage 1 of the project being carried out over during June 2006. The Field team comprised of:

The field work team comprised the following people:

• Dr Lynley Wallis, archaeologist (Flinders University)
• Helen Smith, community representative (Woolgar Valley Aboriginal Corporation)
• Flinders University student volunteers

FIELDWORK

Gledswood 1 was first visited briefly in 2005 by members of the WVAC working with Wallis on a related project. In June '06 test excavations revealed the occupation deposits extended at least 1.8 m below surface. Owing to the unexpectedly deep deposit in the shelter - bedrock was not reached during the test excavation, although substantial quantities of stone artefacts were still being recovered from the lowest levels of the deposit. The site was lined and backfilled in readiness for a future field season.

During the 2008 June-July field season, a return to the Gledswood 1 site is planned, when the original test excavation square will be completed and further excavations will continue through the occupational deposits until bedrock or sterile deposits are reached. All sediments will be sieved and sieve residues bagged and returned to FU for sorting and laboratory analysis. In-situ charcoal and sediment samples will be collected during excavation to enable radiocarbon and OSL determinations to be obtained and thereby develop a robust chronological framework for human occupation of the site. Archaeological analysis of recovered stone artefacts will be undertaken back at Flinders University in the months following the excavation. In-situ sediment samples were collected during Stage 1 of this project, upon which detailed analyses, including particle size analysis, particle shape analysis, porosity, sorting, mineralogy and geochemical characterisation are currently being conducted by Ben Keys. This will allow us to develop a better understanding of the site formation processes.

CONCLUSION

Initial C14 dating results have revealed the site was used from the recent past (ca 600 bp) to at least 13,000 bp, with the latter date obtained from charcoal recovered at a depth of approximately 1.30 m b.s. A projected depth age curve for the site indicates that the bottom of the current test pit is dated firmly to at least the LGM period; however it is possible that there is a stratigraphic or occupation hiatus in the site & the base of the pit dates to before the onset of the LGM.

OUTCOMES

Keys, B., L.A. Wallis and I. Moffat. 2008. The role of sedimentary analysis in understanding human occupation at the Pleistocene-aged Gledswood 1 Shelter, northwest Queensland. Unpublished poster presented at the 4th AINSE Quaternary Dating workshop, 27-28 March 2008..

Wallis, L.A., D. Smith and H. Smith. 2004. Recent archaeological surveys on Middle Park Station, northwest Queensland. Australian Archaeology 59:43-50.

Wallis, L.A. 2005. Ongoing Investigations into the Archaeology and Cultural Heritage of Wanamara Country, northwest Queensland. Paper presented in the Flinders University Department of Archaeology Seminar Series, 11 March 2005.

FUNDING

The Gledswood Shelter project has been generously funded through an AIATSIS Research Grant.