ESR and U-series analyses of faunal material from Cuddie Springs, NSW, Australia: implications for the timing of the extinction of the Australian megafauna
The timing and cause of late Pleistocene faunal extinctions in Australia are subjects of a debate that has become polarised by two vigorously defended views. One contends that the late Pleistocene extinction was a short event caused by humans colonising the Australian continent, whereas the other promotes a gradual demise of the fauna, over a period of at least 10–20 ka, due to a combination of climatic changes and ecological pressures by humans. Cuddie Springs is central to this debate as it is the only site known in continental Australia where archaeological and megafauna remains co-occur.
We have analysed more than 60 bones and teeth from the site by laser ablation ICP-MS to determine U, and Th concentrations and distributions, and those with sufficiently high U concentrations were analysed for U-series isotopes. Twenty-nine teeth were analysed by ESR. These new results, as well as previously published geochronological data, contradict the hypothesis that the clastic sediments of Stratigraphic Unit 6 (SU6) are in primary context with the faunal, archaeological and other materials found in SU6, and that all have ages consistent with the optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) estimates of 30–36 ka. These young OSL results were used to argue for a relatively recent age of the extinct fauna. Our results imply that SU6 is either significantly older than the OSL results, or that a large fraction of the faunal material and the charcoal found in SU6 was derived from older, lateral deposits.
Our U and Th laser ablation ICPMS results as well as the REE profiles reported by Trueman et al. [2008. Comparing rates of recystallisation and the potential for preservation of biomolecules from the distribution of trace elements in fossil bones. C.R. Palevol. General Paleontology (Taphonomy and Fossilization) 7, 145–158] contradict the interpretation of previously reported rare earth element compositions of bones, and the argument based thereon for the primary context of faunal material and clastic sediments in SU6 layers.