Years of Occupation at Ngarrabullgan (Southeast Cape York Peninsula, North Queensland): The Stone Artefact Technological Evidence

01st December 2006

Jerome Mialanes

PhD, School of Art History, Cinema, Classics and Archaeology, University of Melbourne, June 2005

This thesis investigates 50,000 years of temporal changes in stone artefact technology and land-use patterns at Ngarrabullgan (Mt Mulligan), southeast Cape York Peninsula, Far north Queensland. The technological sequence is the oldest and longest investigated to date for Aboriginal Australia.

Processes involved in stone artefact manufacture were reconstructed by analysis of lithic assemblages from five rockshelter sites. After comparing current methods of investigation in lithic studies, a technological approach was considered best suited to the research question and the tendency for the Ngarrabullgan assemblages to be typologically ‘amorphous’. Temporal units were created in relation to changes in artefact discard rates for the four main raw materials (chert, quartz, rhyolite and porphyritic rhyolite). These temporal units, in conjunction with the different occupational histories of each site, provide the basis for identification of major chronological changes in technology and land-use. By employing variable temporal scales of analysis, it was possible to shed light on time periods that were otherwise too coarse-grained to provide any insights or when the sample size for any given period was too small to generate reliable inferences.

Two sites on the mountain-top, Ngarrabullgan Cave and Nonda Rock, were used to establish a master chronology. Nonda Rock presented the most complete data as the shelter was occupied more or less continuously from 50,000 years ago until its abandonment 600 years ago, while Ngarrabullgan Cave was occupied from 40,000 years ago but abandoned for some 30,000 years until reoccupation in the last 6000 years. Several temporal changes were identified both in the nature and intensity of the lithic reduction sequences as well as in the preferential use of raw materials. Changes in rates of stone artefact discard were interpreted as responses to changes in raw material access and procurement linked to changing mobility patterns.

For 50,000 years the mobility magnitude of people frequenting the mountain and its surrounds remained the same. In contrast, mobility frequency showed major alterations during the last 6000 years in conjunction with changes in rates of site establishment and site use. The hypothesis for a period of high mobility frequency between 6000 and 2000 years ago was confirmed by reliance on off-the-mountain raw materials and use of multifunctional, portable flake-cores (flakes used functionally as cores) while frequenting the mountain-top. Technological change during the last 2000 years was marked by a decrease in mobility frequency with increasing use of local raw materials and the disappearance of flake-cores.

Based on these technological trends, I hypothesise that while Aboriginal occupation of the mountain was greatly influenced by environmental conditions, particularly during the Last Glacial Maximum (when the mountain was rarely frequented), changes during the Holocene were more sociocultural in nature.

Jerome Mialanes
Years of Occupation at Ngarrabullgan (Southeast Cape York Peninsula, North Queensland): The Stone Artefact Technological Evidence
December 2006
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Thesis Abstracts
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