The problem of verifying isolated radiocarbon dates: More can be less confusing

23rd January 2014

Map of WA with the study area (published in Australian Archaeology 42:19).

Map of WA with the study area (published in Australian Archaeology 42:19).

R. Esmee Webb

Introduction*

Many years ago Dortch (1977:131) noted that ‘the prehistoric stone industries of the Murchison Basin are represented almost entirely by surface collections of artefacts, most of which have no supplementary information’. Despite considerable subsequent work, that statement was still largely true when I began doctoral research in this region in 1988, because only two of the localities investigated previously had yielded radiometrically controlled sequences of stratified lithic assemblages.

Nonetheless, the numerous surface scatters of stone artefacts assignable to the ‘Small Tool’ tradition which had been recorded (Davies 1961; Davies et al. 1977; Pearce 1979; Byrne 1980), suggest that Aborigines had used the Murchison Basin extensively after 4000 BP. Earlier, beginning at least 11,000 BP, people occasionally used Walga rockshelter (Bordes et al. 1980, 1983), while, by at least 6000 BP, they were also using the bank of the Murchison River at Billibilong Spring. Other, tantalisingly inconclusive, evidence recovered in the Greenough and Murchison River valleys hinted that people, using stone artefacts which were thought on typological grounds to be of considerable antiquity since they could be assigned to the ‘Core Tool and Scraper’ tradition, might even have exploited this region much earlier (Merrilees 1968; Wyrwoll and Dortch 1978). The age of these artefacts remains controversial because the contexts from which they came lack radiometric dates. However, if their putative association with the extinct diprotodont Zygomatwus nilobus can be substantiated (Balme 1979), they could have been made before 30,000 BP. The radiometric ages of finds of this species from elsewhere in Western Australia suggest that it was extinct by that time (Baynes unpublished data).

*Note that an abstract was not included with this paper, and so the introductory paragraph has been included here instead of the abstract.

Webb, E.
The problem of verifying isolated radiocarbon dates: More can be less confusing
June 1996
42
19–24
Article
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