A NEW archaeological survey will investigate human occupation sites at Barrow Island, from the time it was joined to the mainland between seven and eight thousand years ago.
UWA Archaeologist Professor Peter Veth, who has excavated ancient archaeological sites in the Monte Bello Islands over the past two decades, says Barrow Island is the next logical place to look for sites of human occupation that probably ended as sea levels rose.
“We’d been looking at the opportunity for recovering drowned paleo-landscapes and sites for a long time,” he says.
“You look offshore and you are going to get islands which were once part of the mainland and they register oceanic sea level fluctuations, changing maritime systems, a whole range of configurations of faunas, human economies, behaviours which won’t be the same as those on the retracted mainland today.”
Prof Veth says the team will also be looking for evidence of any continuing Aboriginal presence between that time and the next known occupation, a 19th century pearling camp.
“There are modified glass artefacts, remains of fauna, turtle bones and lots of other materials from that period,” he says.
He says a later occupation appears to be a base for a 1920s trepang (Holothuroidea) fishery.
“We will have one crew working on what we call aerial or open-site survey,” he says.
“The second will be working on [two] rock shelters or caves. The Indigenous archaeology [is] quite substantial and should have good deposits.
“The third crew will be working down on Bandicoot Bay on the historic pearling camp and they will be surveying the extent of the site and … doing limited test excavations in the historic material area.”
The excavation team will employ what he describes as “wet sieving”, a newly-developed technique designed to retrieve minute particles of organic matter such as bone fragments, seeds and charcoal on site.
“We’re using super-fine sieves,” he says.
“We’ll be setting up what are called floatation bins or ponds, and everything that comes from the deposit will actually be wet-sieved and anything organic right down to one millimetre will be retrieved.
“We hope to get charcoal from fuel that’s many thousands of years old … possibly up to about 40 [or] 45 [thousand years].
“[Also collected will be] seeds and plants that people may have eaten, and tiny things like fish bones and remains of mammals that you normally wouldn’t get.”
The three-week campaign will commence on 27 June.