Framing Australian Pleistocene coastal occupation and archaeology

Publication Name

Quaternary Science Reviews


There are few archaeological sites that contain records for Pleistocene coastal occupation in Australia, as is the case globally. Two major viewpoints seek to explain why so few sites exist. The first is that the Pleistocene coast was a relatively marginal environment where fluctuating sea levels actively inhibited coastal resource productivity until the mid-to-late Holocene. The second position suggests that the Pleistocene coast (and its resources) was variably productive, potentially hosting extensive populations, but that the archaeological evidence for this occupation has been submerged by sea level rise. To help reconcile these perspectives in Australia, this paper provides a review, discussion, and assessment of the evidence for Australian Pleistocene coastal productivity and occupation. In doing so, we find no reason to categorically assume that coastal landscapes were ever unproductive or unoccupied. We demonstrate that the majority of Pleistocene coastal archaeology will be drowned where dense marine faunal assemblages should only be expected close to palaeo-shorelines. Mixed terrestrial and marine assemblages are likely to occur at sites located >2 km from Pleistocene shorelines. Ultimately, the discussions and arguments put forward in this paper provide a basic framework, and a different set of environmental expectations, within which to assess the results of independent coastal research.

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Funding Sponsor

European Research Council



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