Australian Indigenous archaeology and cultural heritage wrap, 5 March

I try to keep a close eye on new papers, books and so on relevant to Australian Indigenous archaeology and collate much of this information in Zotero. I thought it might be worth irregularly posting a list of new materials that I’ve noticed. If there’s some interest, I’ll turn this into an open Zotero group. This is by no means comprehensive, just a list of the items that I stumble across and that might be of interest to others.

I will avoid commenting on items; the authors speak well enough for themselves.

The grinding of stone to make sharp cutting edges did not evolve with the emergence of biologically modern humans in Africa, but late in the Pleistocene at the completion or nearcompletion of the Out-of-Africa 2 migration. Here we discuss the earliest securely-dated fragment of ground-edge axe from Australia, dated at 35,500 cal. bp, an age slightly older or comparable to the earliest ages for edge-grinding from the Pacific Ocean’s western seaboard. In this region ground-edge axes did not evolve with the emergence of agriculture, nor for the clearance of forests, but, rather, as socially mediated technology, part of the development of symbolic storage that is the hallmark of the evolution of cognitively modern humans at the geographical end, during, or following, Out-of-Africa 2.

Aboriginal mortuary tree in southwestern Victoria

Here we document the investigation of the first Australian Aboriginal mortuary tree found since the early 20th century and the first studied by archaeologists and Aboriginal traditional owners. In 2001, a landowner discovered Aboriginal skeletal remains inside a fallen, dead tree while evaluating the tree’s potential as firewood, leading to the investigation of the site. The tree was located near Moyston, in southwestern Victoria, in traditional Djab Wurrung country and held the partial skeletons of three Aboriginal individuals—two adults and a child. Clay pipe-stem wear on several teeth belonging to the two adults indicates that these remains were broadly contemporaneous secondary placements from the early post-contact period (ca. a.d. 1835‐1845). Along with five additional mortuary trees within 30 km of the Moyston tree, this practice constitutes a previously unknown traditional mortuary pattern and contributes to our understanding of the complex mortuary behavior of the Aboriginal people of southwestern Victoria.

Impact of the dingo on the thylacine (Tasmanian Tigers)

The thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) was one of Australia’s largest predators, but became extinct in mainland Australia soon after the arrival of a new predator, the dingo (Canis lupus dingo) around 3500 bp. Evidence implicating the dingo in the thylacine’s extinction has been equivocal, largely because thylacines are thought to be considerably larger than dingoes. Thus, other concurrent factors, such as shifts in human technology and population increase as well as climate change, have been cited to explain their extinction. Here we present new morphological evidence that female mainland Holocene thylacines were actually smaller than dingoes. We discuss these findings against archaeological and contemporary ecological evidence concerning dingoes’ environmental impacts, and provide evidence that, as novel predators, dingoes induced a trophic cascade that had dramatic impacts on the fauna and economy of Holocene Australia. We suggest that dingoes, owing to their larger brains and body size, were likely a primary agent for the extinction of the thylacine from mainland Australia.

That’s all! If there’s something recent that I’ve missed (likely) feel free to point it out in the comments. I’ll try to collect a few more for the next AIACH wrap.


  • Dingo Simon

    Dingoes arrived in Australia 18,300 years ago.