Thesis abstract ‘Place as Occupational Histories: Towards an Understanding of Deflated Surface Artefact Distributions in the West Darling, New South Wales, Australia’

18th November 2013

Justin Shiner

PhD, Department of Anthropology, University of Auckland, Auckland, July 2004

This thesis develops theoretical and methodological approaches to the investigation of deflated surface stone artefact distributions beyond those that emphasise synchronic behavioural interpretations. The study was undertaken on Pine Point and Langwell Stations, two adjoining pastoral leases in the foothills of the Barrier Range south of Broken Hill in arid Western New South Wales. The main objective was to investigate long-term accumulated patterns in stone artefact assemblage composition from four archaeological deposits adjacent to the Pine Creek – Rantyga Creek confluence. These locations were selected for investigation because they contain extensive distributions of stone artefacts and heat retainer hearths in similar geomorphic settings. Occupational chronologies were established through the dating of charcoal from heat retainer hearths. These chronologies demonstrated that the Pine Point-Langwell assemblages represent multiple episodes of accumulation over the last 2,000 years. Therefore, the formation of the Pine Point-Langwell assemblages meant that they are ideal for the investigation of long-term accumulated patterns.

The composition of the assemblages was investigated through an analysis of artefact use life, curation, the intensity of raw material utilisation and occupation intensity. These permitted consideration of assemblage accumulation as a temporal process. Assemblages are not thought of as synchronic functional sets, but rather as the consequence of repeated and discontinuous discard episodes overtime. As occupation intensity increases, so does the intensity of raw material utilisation. Cores and tools will be worked more intensively and assemblages will be dominated by local raw material, as access to distant sources becomes restricted.

Results indicate both consistencies and inconsistencies in the reduction and utilisation of lithic raw materials. Some of the consistencies are argued to reflect the character of the wider lithic landscape. In general, there is a distance decay relationship in the reduction of silcrete, however this relationship is not evident in all measures of reduction intensity. Variation in measures of core reduction is interpreted to reflect the variable nature of occupation through time at each of the locations in both duration and frequency. Over the time span represented in the Pine Point-Langwell occupational chronology, multiple behavioural patterns result in internal assemblage variability.

Environmental variation may also contribute to the formation of variable assemblage patterns. There is evidence from south western New South Wales for environmental oscillation over the period represented by the occupational chronologies in the Pine Point-Langwell study area. This is interpreted as a possible impulse for the punctuated record of human occupation in the area during the last 2000 years. Hiatuses in the occupational chronology provide further evidence of the variability associated with the formation of the assemblages. Finally, notions of continuity and discontinuity in assemblage formation were explored across the wider region of Western New South Wales with the comparison of late Holocene assemblages from Fowlers Gap and Burkes Cave to the Pine Point-Langwell assemblages.

It is concluded that the approaches to reconstructing past settlement systems in the Australian arid zone are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the formation of deflated archaeological deposits. This in turn leads to the use of inappropriate interpretive frameworks for the archaeological record. These frameworks often ignore chronological patterns at individual locations and assume both contemporaneity and consistency in behaviour through time. This denies the opportunity to investigate the diachronic aspects of deflated deposits, both in terms of occupational chronologies and discontinuities in the raw material management and reduction.

Shiner, J.
Thesis abstract 'Place as Occupational Histories: Towards an Understanding of Deflated Surface Artefact Distributions in the West Darling, New South Wales, Australia'
Thesis Abstracts
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