Karsting around for bones: Aborigines and karst caves in southeastern Australia

12th January 2014

Andy Spate


Curiously, very little can be gleaned from these sources [the ethnohistoric literature] pertaining to man’s use of Australian caves. It would seem that caves figure very rarely in the day-to-day life of the average hunter-gatherer. We are left, then, with a paradox: the type of site most sought after by the archaeologist was probably of least importance to the people who, sporadically, occupied it. (Bowdler 1975:219)
However that may be, the present day natives can give no coherent account of the origin or of the use of the cave and other paintings scattered throughout the Kimberley and Central areas. (Daisy Bates in White 1985)

Although ‘conventional’ wisdom has it that the Australian Aborigine was frightened by, and avoided caves, there are many examples of the use of karst caves. Most of the examples are of use in the entrance or twilight zones but there are occasions where evidence of use extends well into the dark zone. The best examples of this penetration into the dark zone are in the caves of the Nullarbor Plain where artistic activities, flint mining and perhaps pure exploration took place half a kilometre or more from the entrance—well into the dark zone. There are a number of examples in the eastern highlands of deliberate or accidental forays into the dark zone.

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

Spate, A.
Karsting around for bones: Aborigines and karst caves in southeastern Australia
December 1997
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