Landscape history in the Hunter Valley, NSW: Why there is a multitude of Holocene archaeological sites, but so few Pleistocene sites

16th October 2014

The central lowlands (dashed line), showing the three main sites discussed in the text (published in Australian Archaeology 79).

The central lowlands (dashed line), showing the three main
sites discussed in the text (published in Australian Archaeology 79).

Phil Hughes, Nigel Spooner and Daniele Questiaux

The central lowlands of the Hunter Valley are rich in Holocene-aged open stone artefact concentrations but, to date, very few verified traces of Pleistocene occupation have been found there. The central lowlands would have been a reasonably attractive place to live, so logic suggests that there should be Pleistocene sites. Given the geomorphic and soil formation processes that have operated over the potentially long period of Aboriginal occupation of the central lowlands, however, it is likely that most archaeological materials older than ca 10,000 years have been either completely removed or widely dispersed across the landscape and are no longer recognisable as discrete Pleistocene-aged assemblages. Sand bodies have the greatest potential to contain older sites, but in most, if not all, cases their stratigraphic integrity has been compromised, principally by bioturbation. Understanding the landscape history over the last 90,000 years is the key to understanding why finding Pleistocene sites in the Hunter Valley has proven to be so difficult. Geoarchaeological evidence which illustrates this difficulty is presented from sites in three deposits of probable Pleistocene to early Holocene age—two in sand bodies and one in colluvium. On one sand body (the Warkworth sand sheet) there is contestable evidence for traces of pre-LGM occupation beginning more than ~23,000, possibly 50,000, years ago, but on the other (the Cheshunt dune) there is no evidence of occupation beyond the mid-Holocene.

Hughes, P., N. Spooner and D. Questiaux
Landscape history in the Hunter Valley, NSW: Why there is a multitude of Holocene archaeological sites, but so few Pleistocene sites
December 2014
79
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