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Human Mobility Patterns on the Pleistocene Coastal Plain in North-Western Australia
This project proposes to investigate the nature of early coastal occupation in north-western Australia by reconstructing detailed mobility patterns from assemblages preserved in sites which were once part of a coastal plain in north-western Australia. These include sites from the Montebello Islands, including Noala and Haynes Cave, as well as sites from both Cape Range and Barrow Island, including the recently excavated Boodie Cave. The project proposes to focus on the stone artefact assemblages which will be used as material proxies for reconstructing coastal human mobility patterns. The link between mobility and stone artefacts is well established and many methods exist from which to reconstruct mobility from stone artefacts. From the perspective of stone artefact assemblage formation, a variety of these will be used with an aim to quantitatively reconstruct mobility patterns and, given the importance of mobility in hunter-gatherer archaeology, to also assess the validity of different methods for its reconstruction.
Over the last 40,000 years, the structure of coasts in Australia was not static, but varied significantly as both the climate and sea level oscillated. As a result, any human coastal occupation would require sufficient long-term dynamism and flexibility to incorporate constant long-term structural change. One important occupational pattern for a dynamic coastal environment is mobility which, to effectively interact with changing natural and social landscapes, would also require a great deal of flexibility. However, the problem is that relatively little is known about Pleistocene patterns of human mobility in Australian coastal settings. This is chiefly because the locations which would otherwise preserve this signature were drowned by post Last Glacial Maximum sea level rise.
In this context it is fortunate that the unique continental shelf characteristics of north-western Australia have retained the archaeological sites (above) on remnants of a now-drowned Pleistocene coastline where all preserve stone artefact assemblages spanning most of the last 40,000 years. For example, Boodie Cave yielded an assemblage in excess of 10,000 stone artefacts. By examining these stone artefact assemblages, with combination of both established and novel methods, it will be possible to provide a quantitative reconstruction of the spatial and temporal variation of human mobility in relation to a fluctuating coastline. Given this, the research has the potential to establish new and intriguing patterns for human behavioural interaction with a dynamic Pleistocene coastline which, in many other places of Australia, has not yet been possible.