Technological Organization and Settlement in Southwest Tasmania after the Glacial Maximum

By McNiven, Ian J. | Antiquity, March 1994 | Go to article overview

Technological Organization and Settlement in Southwest Tasmania after the Glacial Maximum


McNiven, Ian J., Antiquity


A growing quantity of data about the late Pleistocene sequence in Tasmania has not been matched by an equivalent clear understanding of just what are the patterns of its lithic record. A new model is developed.

Introduction

The discovery over the last decade of numerous sites dating within the period c. 35,000-11,000 b.p. in the densely-forested limestone valleys of southwest Tasmania has heralded a new era in late Pleistocene archaeological research in Australia. Many of these sites exhibit rich stone artefact assemblages unparalleled in density and volume by their chronological counterparts on the mainland (Cosgrove 1989; 1991; Cosgrove et al. 1990; Jones 1990; McNiven et al. in press). Pioneering research at Kutikina Cave identified an important change in stone artefact assemblages commencing at the time of the last glacial maximum around 18,000 b.p. (Jones 1988; 1989; 1990). However, more recent insights drawing on a larger sample of assemblages have down-played this pattern of dramatic change. This more conservative and static view sees the stone industries as 'largely amorphous' (Cosgrove et al. 1990: 70) and limited for analysis by theoretical problems of temporal scale and resolution in the archaeological record (Cosgrove 1991).

This paper develops Jones' model of chronological change at the time of the last glacial maximum. A new model is outlined which discusses chronological change in southwest Tasmanian stone assemblages in terms of technological organization and settlement restructuring. It is based on a synthesis of recent data on chronological changes in the use of raw materials (quartz and Darwin Glass) and thumbnail scrapers, and how these may reflect broader-based changes in mobility and the relative employment of curated components to the toolkit.

Quartz and Darwin Glass

The main raw material change after the glacial maximum is quartz and Darwin Glass use. In the lower part of the Kutikina sequence 'some 60% to 70%' of artefacts were quartzite, while in the upper levels 'over 90%' were quartz (Jones 1990: 279-80). Jones (1990: 280) notes that this changeover occurred 'between 16,000 and 18,000 b.p.'. The increased use of quartz has also been documented at Bone Cave, where the relative proportion of quartz artefacts changes from 5% before the glacial maximum to 14% after the glacial maximum (McNiven et al. in press).

Darwin Glass is a distinctive-looking raw material which occurs naturally as small, marble-sized pebbles. It was formed around 0.7 mya by meteorite impact and can be found within topsoil across its strewnfield which extends up to 20 km west of Darwin Crater (Fudali & Ford 1979; Jones 1990: 282). Artefacts of Darwin Glass were restricted to the upper section of Kutikina, with most of the top 14 levels containing 'a few glass flakes' (Jones 1988: 37; 1989: 769; 1990: 282). At Nunamira, 80% of all excavated Darwin Glass artefacts came from the upper levels of the site dated from c. 16,000 to 12,000 b.p. (Cosgrove 1991: 77-8, 153-4). A little further to the south, the single fragment of Darwin Glass recovered from Bone Cave is dated to after c. 18,000 b.p. (Allen et al. 1988: 82).

Thumbnail scrapers

The only distinctive and recurring implement type identified from the southwest Tasmanian assemblages is the thumbnail scraper (Cosgrove et al. 1990: 70). Characteristically, thumbnail scrapers tend to be small (maximum dimension |is less than~2.5 cm), discoid or semi-discoid in outline with a sub-tabular cross section. Retouching tends to be steep, finely executed and located on the dorsal surface of the distal half of the flake (cf. end scrapers). Of all the assemblages examined to date, Kutikina provides the best example of change in the use of thumbnail scrapers after the glacial maximum. Jones notes that the tools from the upper assemblage 'consisted almost entirely' (1990: 280) of thumbnail scrapers with 'some 80 examples' recovered from less than one cubic metre of deposit (1988: 36). …

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