Aridity and Settlement in Northwest Australia

By Veth, Peter | Antiquity, Annual 1995 | Go to article overview

Aridity and Settlement in Northwest Australia


Veth, Peter, Antiquity


An element in the changing pattern of Australian archaeology has been the filling-in of great blanks on the archoeological map, once survey and excavation has begun to explore them. The dry lands of the great central and western deserts of Australia, a hard place for humans to this day, have in the lost couple of decades come to find a large place in the transitional story.

The arid northwest

This paper focusses on the northwest portion of Australia incorporating the Gascoyne, Pilbara, Western Desert and Kimberley regions (Figure 1). This huge area has changed over the last 20 years from the archaeological `blackhole' reviewed by Dortch (1977), to one providing some of the oldest occupation sequences for both the continent and its offshore islands (O'Connor in press, pers. comm.; Veth 1994). These results are not unexpected given the region's propinquity to proposed entry routes for colonizers out of island southeast Asia and into Sahul (Birdsell 1977).

This huge region has many diverse landform, vegetation and climate types (Brown 1987; Harrison 1993; O'Connor 1993; Veth 1993. The Gascoyne and Western Desert, generally semi-arid to arid, have highly weathered and often subdued landscapes, with locally prominent ranges. In the major difference between the two regions, the Gascoyne has numerous and sometimes major ephemeral water-courses that harbour important concentrations of food and water resources, while the Western Desert is characterized by uncoordinated drainage, and resource distribution is more scattered. The Pilbara region, also with an arid to semi-arid climate, contains a major upland system (e.g. the Hamersley and Chichester ranges) which gives rise to substantial drainage courses, such as the Fortescue and de Grey. These discharge over extensive coastal plains to enter the Indian Ocean along an otherwise featureless arid coastline. Vegetation of these arid areas is predominantly tree/shrub steppe and hummock grassland.

In contrast to these regions, which experience as little as 250 mm of rain per annum, the Kimberley is characterized by substantially higher rainfall (up to 1400 mm) with a markedly seasonal distribution. The lowest rainfall occurs in the southwest Kimberley, which is generally featureless and flat; it increases substantially as the numerous and sometimes massive ranges to the north and east are encountered. Drainage is well co-ordinated, and in many cases, the discharge volumes of rivers are very high (Lau et al. 1987). Vegetation is much more dense and includes extensive woodlands, major mangrove forests and even patches of rainforest.

An intriguing pattern in the prehistoric record of these varied regions is the evidence for a changing nature of occupation in stratified sites spanning the Pleistocen - Holocene transition. Varied interpretations of these changes have given rise to a number of demographic models (e.g. Hiscock 1988; Morse 1993a; O'Connor 1990; O'Connor et al. 1993; Smith 1988; Veth 1993).

Climates and environments

These varied models see major changes in climate and sea-levels associated with the Last Glacial Maximum as restructuring resources significant to human ecology. Changes in demography and settlement behaviour ensued, with implications for prehistoric exchange systems, local social organization and dietary composition. The period 15,000-7000 b.p. is the time of greatest change in certain archaeological signatures (after Gould 1980), as witnessed in marked fluctuations in regional cultural discard rates, long-distance exchange systems and inferred alterations to resource catchments.

While palaeoclimatic reconstructions for northwest Australia are sketchy, it is reasonable to propose that the arid conditions experienced today were exacerbated during the Last Glacial Maximum with climatic amelioration possibly occurring as late as the early Holocene. Areas almost certainly affected include the Gascoyne, Pilbara and Western Desert. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Aridity and Settlement in Northwest Australia
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.