Amberat Middens and the Palaeoenvironmental Record of the Inland Pilbara, Western Australia

Author: Emily Mcbride

Mcbride, Emily, 2018 Amberat Middens and the Palaeoenvironmental Record of the Inland Pilbara, Western Australia , Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Archaeologists have long recognised the value of interpreting the archaeological record within a palaeoenvironmental context. Human behaviour can be driven by a number of factors including climatic change and resource availability. In recent times, there has been an increase in archaeological studies that use palaeoenvironmental information to shed light on the nature of human-environmental relationships. Unfortunately for many of the arid and semi-arid regions of Australia, this information is either lacking or completely absent. The Pilbara region of Western Australia has high biological and archaeological significance; however, very little is known about the environmental history of the area, and how humans might have adapted and responded to long-term climatic change.

Potential archives of palaeoenvironmental information exist in caves and rockshelters in the Packsaddle area of the inland Pilbara. These are amberat middens, hard and crystallised deposits formed by animal activity which are known to preserve botanical and faunal remains. These can be used to infer past vegetation and climatic change. This project sets out to assess how a multi-proxy analysis of the middens could be used to infer past climatic change and therefore help to characterise the nature of past human-environmental relationships.

This project identified some of the oldest known amberat middens in Australia. The findings showed that long-term changes in vegetation were evident mostly in the pollen and macrofossil records. Vegetation throughout the late Pleistocene was dominated by an open woodland. A shift occurs after 6000 BP to a more heterogenous pattern of vegetation with the increasing dominance of grassland communities. There were also several hiatuses in midden accumulation which might indicate that the Packsaddle area was effected by prolonged drought in the past, particularly during the Last Glacial Maximum. This might explain why patterns of occupation during this period have appeared so sparse in the archaeological record.

Keywords: Palaeoenvironment, Amberat, Archaeology, Pilbara

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2018
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Alice Gorman