Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

A Small Salvage Excavation in Windjana Gorge, Kimberley, Western Australia

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

A Small Salvage Excavation in Windjana Gorge, Kimberley, Western Australia

Article excerpt


Windjana Gorge Water Tank Shelter (DIA 12588) is a narrow limestone rockshelter located in Windjana Gorge National Park, Western Australia. Although the site is badly disturbed, test excavation revealed some 45cm of in situ deposit down to massive roof-fall. Radiocarbon estimates demonstrate that the shelter was used from at least 7000 calBP into the European contact period. The sediments contain well-preserved faunal remains and stone artefacts. The faunal remains give an insight into Aboriginal economy in an arid region with adjacent fresh water sources.

Keywords: Kimberley; desert adaptation; Holocene; stone artefacts; fauna


In 1994 O'Connor and Cathy Stokes test pitted a narrow rockshelter in a limestone outcrop in Windjana Gorge National Park (Figures 1, 2 and 3). The shelter was first recorded in 1988 by Elizabeth Bradshaw and Patricia Vinnicombe during a Department of Aboriginal Sites (DAS, now Department of Indigenous Affairs, DIA) survey, and named the shelter after a large metal tank that had been constructed in it by the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM, now Department of Environment and Conservation, DEC), who manage the park (Figure 2). The shelter is located on the south east face of Windjana Gorge and only a few hundred metres off the walking track leading from the car park to the gorge entrance. It contains archaeological deposit and several panels of painted art, although the latter were largely obscured by the tank at the time of the survey.

The DIA site file records the extensive disturbance to the deposit associated with the tank construction, including burial of black PVC piping running from the tank for the full length of the shelter along the dripline. Also noted is a well trodden path from the walking track to the shelter indicating regular visitation by tourists. O'Connor carried out a small test excavation in July 1994. By then the metal water tank had been removed by CALM just above the concrete base and no longer obscured the paintings. However, the concrete base and black PVC piping were still evident. The primary aim of excavation was to determine if any areas of undisturbed deposit remained and, if so, to salvage a sample of cultural material. The blatant disregard for the cultural and indigenous heritage values of the site shown by CALM, and the evidence of regular tourist visitation, did not bode well for its future management or protection. This view proved to be justified. When O'Connor revisited the site in November 2005 the base of the water tank was buried under large quantities of river gravel and sand, presumably as a misdirected attempt by CALM to restore the condition of the shelter. The DIA site file does not record the authority for, or timing of, these actions but the site file does note that DAS had recommended removal of the concrete base in July 1993.



The 50cm square test pit was positioned well inside the dripline (Figure 3) and was excavated in arbitrary spits of approximately 2cm depth (24 spits in total). The volume of sediment removed in each spit was estimated to the nearest 0.5 L by counting the buckets (or fractions) removed. Excavation was discontinued at a maximum depth of ca. 45cm upon reaching rockfall across most of the plan. To continue would have required enlarging the pit into the disturbed area of the floor. Al1 excavated sediment was sieved through nested 6mm and 3mm sieves. Cultural material from the two fractions is combined in the following analysis. Artefact classification follows Hiscock (in press).


Stratigraphy and dating

The deposit was sandy throughout and the only visible stratigraphy involved some slight changes in colour (Munsell 10YR 5/2-10YR 5/4) and pH (8.0-8.5). Five radiocarbon dates were obtained on charcoal, three of them by the AMS method, and one AMS date was obtained from a Celtis seed (Table 1). …

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