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Aboriginal artefacts on the continental shelf reveal ancient drowned cultural landscapes in northwest Australia

Aboriginal artefacts on the continental shelf reveal ancient drowned cultural landscapes in northwest Australia
Aboriginal artefacts on the continental shelf reveal ancient drowned cultural landscapes in northwest Australia

This article reports Australia’s first confirmed ancient underwater archaeological sites from the continental shelf, located off the Murujuga coastline in north-western Australia. Details on two underwater sites are reported: Cape Bruguieres, comprising > 260 recorded lithic artefacts at depths down to −2.4 m below sea level, and Flying Foam Passage where the find spot is associated with a submerged freshwater spring at −14 m. The sites were discovered through a purposeful research strategy designed to identify underwater targets, using an iterative process incorporating a variety of aerial and underwater remote sensing techniques and diver investigation within a predictive framework to map the submerged landscape within a depth range of 0–20 m. The condition and context of the lithic artefacts are analysed in order to unravel their depositional and taphonomic history and to corroborate their in situ position on a pre-inundation land surface, taking account of known geomorphological and climatic processes including cyclone activity that could have caused displacement and transportation from adjacent coasts. Geomorphological data and radiometric dates establish the chronological limits of the sites and demonstrate that they cannot be later than 7000 cal BP and 8500 cal BP respectively, based on the dates when they were finally submerged by sea-level rise. Comparison of underwater and onshore lithic assemblages shows differences that are consistent with this chronological interpretation. This article sets a foundation for the research strategies and technologies needed to identify archaeological targets at greater depth on the Australian continental shelf and elsewhere, building on the results presented. Emphasis is also placed on the need for legislation to better protect and manage underwater cultural heritage on the 2 million square kilometres of drowned landscapes that were once available for occupation in Australia, and where a major part of its human history must lie waiting to be discovered.

1932-6203
Benjamin, Jonathan
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O’Leary, Michael
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McDonald, Jo
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Wiseman, Chelsea
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McCarthy, John
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Beckett, Emma
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Morrison, Patrick
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Stankiewicz, Francis
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Leach, Jerem
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Hacker, Jorg
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Baggaley, Paul
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Jerbić, Katarina
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Fowler, Madeline
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Fairweather, John
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Jeffries, Peter
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Ulm, Sean
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Bailey, Geoff
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Benjamin, Jonathan
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O’Leary, Michael
91f29255-59b3-4d66-bfe0-ee302c2e46bd
McDonald, Jo
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Wiseman, Chelsea
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McCarthy, John
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Beckett, Emma
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Morrison, Patrick
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Stankiewicz, Francis
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Leach, Jerem
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Hacker, Jorg
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Baggaley, Paul
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Jerbić, Katarina
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Fowler, Madeline
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Fairweather, John
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Jeffries, Peter
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Ulm, Sean
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Bailey, Geoff
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Benjamin, Jonathan, O’Leary, Michael, McDonald, Jo, Wiseman, Chelsea, McCarthy, John, Beckett, Emma, Morrison, Patrick, Stankiewicz, Francis, Leach, Jerem, Hacker, Jorg, Baggaley, Paul, Jerbić, Katarina, Fowler, Madeline, Fairweather, John, Jeffries, Peter, Ulm, Sean and Bailey, Geoff (2020) Aboriginal artefacts on the continental shelf reveal ancient drowned cultural landscapes in northwest Australia. PLoS ONE, 15 (7), [e0233912]. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0233912).

Record type: Article

Abstract

This article reports Australia’s first confirmed ancient underwater archaeological sites from the continental shelf, located off the Murujuga coastline in north-western Australia. Details on two underwater sites are reported: Cape Bruguieres, comprising > 260 recorded lithic artefacts at depths down to −2.4 m below sea level, and Flying Foam Passage where the find spot is associated with a submerged freshwater spring at −14 m. The sites were discovered through a purposeful research strategy designed to identify underwater targets, using an iterative process incorporating a variety of aerial and underwater remote sensing techniques and diver investigation within a predictive framework to map the submerged landscape within a depth range of 0–20 m. The condition and context of the lithic artefacts are analysed in order to unravel their depositional and taphonomic history and to corroborate their in situ position on a pre-inundation land surface, taking account of known geomorphological and climatic processes including cyclone activity that could have caused displacement and transportation from adjacent coasts. Geomorphological data and radiometric dates establish the chronological limits of the sites and demonstrate that they cannot be later than 7000 cal BP and 8500 cal BP respectively, based on the dates when they were finally submerged by sea-level rise. Comparison of underwater and onshore lithic assemblages shows differences that are consistent with this chronological interpretation. This article sets a foundation for the research strategies and technologies needed to identify archaeological targets at greater depth on the Australian continental shelf and elsewhere, building on the results presented. Emphasis is also placed on the need for legislation to better protect and manage underwater cultural heritage on the 2 million square kilometres of drowned landscapes that were once available for occupation in Australia, and where a major part of its human history must lie waiting to be discovered.

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Accepted/In Press date: 14 May 2020
e-pub ahead of print date: 1 July 2020

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 443597
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/443597
ISSN: 1932-6203
PURE UUID: eb7395af-ca27-4004-807a-62267c295491

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Date deposited: 03 Sep 2020 16:31
Last modified: 27 Apr 2022 12:43

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Contributors

Author: Jonathan Benjamin
Author: Michael O’Leary
Author: Jo McDonald
Author: Chelsea Wiseman
Author: John McCarthy
Author: Emma Beckett
Author: Patrick Morrison
Author: Francis Stankiewicz
Author: Jerem Leach
Author: Jorg Hacker
Author: Paul Baggaley
Author: Katarina Jerbić
Author: Madeline Fowler
Author: John Fairweather
Author: Peter Jeffries
Author: Sean Ulm
Author: Geoff Bailey

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