Charcoals as Indicators of Ancient Trees and Fuel Strategies: An Application of Anthracology in the Australian Midwest

21st April 2013

Chae Kelli-Anne Taylor

Grad. Dip. Arts (Advanced), School of Social Sciences, University of Western Australia, November 2012

Wood charcoal has a greater archaeological worth than simply being a tool for radiocarbon dating. The carbonised material preserves beautifully and is prevalent in archaeological deposits throughout Australia. Anthracology (the analysis of wood charcoal macro-remains) is often an outlying focus within Australian archaeology—which is unfortunate, considering the information it can reveal about past ecosystems and human plant exploitation. Consequently, this thesis seeks to test the feasibility and methods of anthracology within a Western Australian arid environment whilst creating a set of references for future research.

In 2011, Eureka Archaeological Research and Consulting excavated a test pit at a rockshelter in Weld Range. The site (located not far from the nationally listed Aboriginal ochre mine, Wilgie Mia) revealed an abundance of charcoal including two clearly stratified hearth features. The older hearth dates to 4155–3920 cal. BP and the younger to 470–310 cal. BP. In wood, the cellular and anatomical characteristics of each taxon are unique, acting as a ‘fingerprint’—a unique indicator for identification. Through creating a regional reference collection and anatomical database, identification and analysis of the archaeological charcoal assemblages was possible. The anthracological assemblages from the two clearly stratified hearth features is compared in terms of taxa frequency, diversity and composition and used to infer palaeoethnobotanical and environmental information. This thesis investigates which taxa were chosen for fire fuel by past Aboriginal occupants of the Weld Range site and determines the composition of the past woody vegetation represented.

Chae Kelli-Anne Taylor
Charcoals as indicators of ancient trees and fuel strategies: An application of anthracology in the Australian Midwest
June 2013
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Thesis Abstracts
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