Material culture and behaviour in Pleistocene Sahul: Examining the archaeological representation of Pleistocene behavioural modernity in Sahul

01st June 2010

Langley MAP of Pleistocene Sahul TAMichelle C. Langley

MPhil, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, September 2009

Sahul, the combined landmass of Australia and New Guinea, provides a record of behavioural modernity extending over at least the last 50,000 years. Colonised solely by anatomically and behaviourally modern humans, this continent provides an alternative record to the African Middle Stone Age and Eurasian Upper Palaeolithic in the investigation of behavioural modernity.

In the past, the archaeological record of behavioural modernity in Sahul has been described as simple, sparse and essentially different from those records of Africa and Eurasia. These differences have been attributed to either low population densities during the Pleistocene or the loss of behavioural ‘traits’ on the journey from Africa to Sahul. While a number of studies have been undertaken, no sustained attempt has been made to investigate the role of taphonomy and sampling on the representation of behavioural modernity in the archaeological record, despite Sahul being characterised by extreme environments, highly variable climates, and archaeologically, usually only small excavations.

This study compiles a database of some 223 Pleistocene sites, including details of chronology, evidence for behavioural modernity and excavation details. Site spatial and temporal distribution, site characteristics, excavations, absolute dating, preservation and sample size are examined to determine how the behavioural complexity of a modern human population is characterised on this isolated southern continent and the impact of taphonomy and archaeological sampling on that representation.

Results demonstrate that preservation and sampling play a significant role in structuring the spatial and temporal representation of behavioural modernity in the archaeological record of Pleistocene Sahul. Contrary to previous findings, the evidence for behavioural modernity in Sahul is found to resemble the archaeological records of the African Middle Stone Age and Eurasian Upper Palaeolithic in terms of behaviour and artefact diversity. In terms of global narratives, these results also indicate that current understandings of behavioural modernity are incomplete and may misrepresent levels of behavioural complexity in early periods in some regions.

Michelle C. Langley
Material culture and behaviour in Pleistocene Sahul: Examining the archaeological representation of Pleistocene behavioural modernity in Sahul
June 2010
70
82-83
Thesis Abstracts
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