Lithics in the Land of the Lightning Brothers: The Archaeology of Wardaman Country, Northern Territory

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ANU E Press, 2007 - Cave dwellings - 221 pages
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This monograph reports on 15,000 years of technological and social change in a region of northern Australia located on the edge of the semi-arid zone amidst mesas, deep gorges and dry basalt plains. It is a region best known for its spectacular rock art, and more particularly the striped anthropomorphic figures known as the Lightning Brothers which decorate the walls of some rockshelters in the south of the traditional lands of the Wardaman people. The region is also known for its rich archaeological record, and has been the subject of intensive archaeological study since Davidson's research there in the 1930s. This monograph is based on a PhD thesis submitted at the Australian National University in 2004. It employs foraging theory and recent thinking about the strategic organisation of lithic technology to explore changing settlement and subsistence practices in this region since the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Applying this approach to the explanation of assemblage variability in Wardaman Country offers new insights into the possible reasons for technological and social change in this region over the last 15,000 years. Two chapters that originally appeared in the PhD Thesis, one expounding the role of modern Darwinian theory in the explanation of cultural change and another exploring technological provisioning across space in Wardaman Country do not appear in this monograph. The ideas about technological responses to different foraging practices developed in this monograph are tested against assemblage data from four rockshelters located in different parts of Wardaman Country. The results of the study suggest that major changes in lithic technology and land use took place in reaction to increased subsistence risk brought on by declines in the abundance and predictability of resources. These declines may have been triggered by the onset of ENSO-driven climatic variability after 5,000 BP, which appears to have reached its greatest severity in northern Australia between c. 3,500 and 2,000 BP. This study has important implications for our understanding of northern Australian prehistory, including the potential causes of broadly similar technological changes across large parts of the top end, the timing of increased inter-regional contact and the spread of new technologies. It also illustrates the importance of tracking continuity in manufacturing traditions as a means of understanding the kinds of social processes that underlie regional technological changes.
 

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Contents

Defining Research Questions in Northern Australian Lithic Studies
1
List of Figures
2
Modelling Optimality in Subsistence and Technology
9
hypothetical return rate from foraging over time B sigmoid curve representing utility
23
Procedures for Lithic Analysis
27
curvature of the retouched edge
39
Physiography and Climate Change
41
Nimji Garnawala 2 Gordolya and Jagoliya
55
reductions in the perimeter of retouch and C platforms retouched
118
marginal angle plotted against longitudinal crosssection
125
Change and Continuity in Stone Artefact Manufacture
129
for the region over time
140
rockshelters
142
the number of bifacially retouched segments
153
A New Look at North Australian Prehistory
159
Conclusion
167

the location of the squares analysed by Cundy 1990 and the location of major rock
58
at the base of the rock
73
Artefact Form and Manufacturing Technology in Wardaman
83
morphology and reduction technique over the sequence of core rotations
85
and their frequencies
87
both cores the cortical platform on one A and the single conchoidal scar on the platform of
92
intervals
98
thickness ratio and B longitudinal crosssection lengththickness ratio
105
Appendix A Attributes recorded on stone artefacts
187
Appendix B Descriptions of excavated materials from Nimji
193
Descriptions of excavated materials from Garnawala 2
199
Descriptions of excavated materials from Jagoliya
205
Appendix E Descriptions of excavated materials from Gordolya
215
Stone artefact counts for Square M25 Gordolya
218
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