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Dorcas Vannieuwenhuyse

Phone: (+61 8) 6488 2896

Start date

Jun 2012

Submission date

Jun 2016


Dorcas Vannieuwenhuyse


Mind the gap: geoarchaeology and micromorphology of cave and rockshelter sequences from the Kimberley, north-west Australia


This research is part of the ‘Lifeways of the First Australians’ ARC Linkage Project, which is investigating technologies, subsistence, symbolic and social behaviour of Late Pleistocene and Holocene human occupation in the southern part of the Kimberley. Several shelters and caves have been excavated for this project during fieldwork in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

One of the major issue in the Australian archaeology of the northwestern semi-arid zone is the number of archaeological sequences presenting discontinuities (stratigraphic hiatus, break in deposition rate or sterile layer), most of the time around the Last Glacial Maximum timing. The Last Glacial Maximum, beginning around 30,000 years BP and peaking around 21,000 years BP (uncal.) is the most significant climatic event since the arrival of human in Australia. It was a period of cooling and increased aridity.

The geoarchaeological research undertaken for this thesis will help understand the causes of these discontinuities by defining the site formation processes of each archaeological site. Anthropogenic and paleoenvironmental signatures will be identified through the sequence to help understand if the discontinuities reflect some sedimentary or occupational hiatus or a combination of both options.

Various methods will be employed to study the sequence. A micromorphological study (analysis of undisturbed sediment samples under the microscope) will be undertaken for each site. Additional analysis will be done to complete the study, such as basic grain size analysis and more complex geochemical analysis.

Why my research is important

This is a very challenging research as not a lot of geoarchaeological investigation has been done before in Australia and it will be the first time micromorphology is used in this area of Australia to answer an archaeological issue.

The interpretation of the geoarchaeological results, in conjunction with those from the archaeological record, will provide new evidences about people’s adaptation to Pleistocene and Holocene environmental changes.


  • Overseas Travel Award
  • Australian Postgraduate Award (Industry)
  • Scholarship for International Research Fee