Using soil magnetic properties to determine the onset of pleistocene human settlement at Gledswood Shelter 1, Northern Australia

Lowe, Kelsey M. and Shulmeister, James and Feinberg, Joshua M. and Manne, Tiina and Wallis, Lynley A. and Welsh, Kevin (2016) Using soil magnetic properties to determine the onset of pleistocene human settlement at Gledswood Shelter 1, Northern Australia. Geoarchaeology, 31 (3). pp. 211-228. ISSN 0883-6353


In regions that lack built structures or stratified open archaeological sites, such as precolonial Australia, rockshelters are a major source of detailed information for understanding the nature and timing of human occupation. A key concern is that the proposed ages for the earliest archaeological sites are based on luminescence dating of sediments, rather than directly of cultural materials, leaving the association between the sediments and evidence of human activity questionable. Here, we present evidence of magnetic enhancement associated with cultural horizons within the deposits of a Pleistocene rockshelter in interior northern Queensland. Soil magnetic studies combined with experimental burning show that magnetically enhanced sediments in Gledswood Shelter 1 are the result of anthropogenic burning of hearth fires, which burn hotter and for a longer time than natural wild fires. These techniques appear to work in this setting because of the nature of the local geology and the geological antiquity of the landscape. Susceptibility and frequency dependence of susceptibility signatures provide a critical tool to resolve that human occupation starts at 2.2 m depth within a stratigraphic section. In conjunction with luminescence dating, soil magnetic studies provide an opportunity for archaeologists to resolve the timing of human settlement in Australia and other intracratonic plate settings.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Files associated with this item cannot be displayed due to copyright restrictions.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: No Faculty
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: No Faculty
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2017 04:06
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2017 04:06
Uncontrolled Keywords: archaeological sites; luminescence dating; soil magnetic studies; anthropogenic burning;
Fields of Research (2008): 21 History and Archaeology > 2101 Archaeology > 210101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Archaeology
Fields of Research (2020): 45 INDIGENOUS STUDIES > 4501 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, language and history > 450101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander archaeology
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology
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