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Living near permanent water in the upper Murray-Darling Basin Implications from the micromorphology of buried soils near artesian springs



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Connolly, Malcolm 


Understanding links between landscape change and early peoples that lived along Eulo Ridge in the upper Murray Darling Basin, Australia are hampered by poor environmental data and chronological frameworks. To address such issues, steep sided gullies (arroyos), soil micromorphology and pedology, and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating provide a framework for the palaeo-human setting. It considers several questions, including: When did landscapes change and why? How did dry and humid conditions effect the circumstances and behaviours of early peoples living in Australia’s drylands? It is hypothesised that early peoples were able to adjust their behaviours to cope with episodic erosional events and successfully occupy drylands for millennia. This thesis implements a multi proxy approach to reveal evidence of oscillating humid and dry conditions from ~55 Ka to ~0.7 Ka. From 55.9 Ka ± 5.9 Ka BP, humid conditions dominated the region which slowly transitioned into cold frosty dry conditions toward the commencement of the last glacial maximum (LGM). Extreme dry cold conditions characterised the LGM (~24 Ka to ~20 Ka) with people living near groundwater fed pools and groups of springs. From ~20 Ka to ~15 Ka, the region was characterised by intermittent rainfall, fires, and people living near springs. From ~15Ka to ~12 Ka, activations of the monsoons brought wet conditions, mass movement of sediments downslope, and intermittent fires across the region. From ~5 Ka to ~0.7 Ka, conditions were humid with significant landscape changes with dune formation, landslides, and burial of the former land surfaces. This was followed by dry conditions and the familiar boom and bust periods with short humid conditions and long dry phases. The last 1,000 years is seen as a period of significant cultural and behavioural change with larger populations and technological innovations. It is argued that early peoples coped with landscape change by adjusting the extent of their home range to confront the opposing impacts of extreme humid and dry conditions, and implementing new technologies such as a greater use of fire to cope with the continual boom and bust phases. Finally, this study demonstrates that micromorphology is a valuable tool for geoarchaeologists to reconstruct both palaeoenvironments and to decipher the behaviours of early peoples living near springs for long periods of time.





French, Charles


micromorphology, buried soils, multi proxy, Australia, geoarchaeology, optically stimulated luminescence, Murray Darling Basin


Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Charlie Perkins Scholarship, Aurora Foundation Everick Heritage Consultants