THE Dampier Archipelago may be the best location for discovering submerged archaeological landscapes in Australia according to new research.
The group of islands are thought to be hiding 30,000-year-old submerged archaeological history and now the likelihood of identifying which sediments hold these archaeological sites has become a reality.
Lead author and UWA’s Ingrid Ward of says there has been no significant study of submerged landscapes in Australia until now.
“I believe this study represents an almost unexplored field of research,” Dr Ward says.
“One of the drivers for focusing on the Dampier Archipelago is the representation of rising sea-levels in the rock art of the area.
“So there is now a big interest in better understanding the formation of the archipelago itself through post-glacial sea-level rise, and the associated potential for marine cultural heritage in this region.
“There is little understanding of the impacts of natural dynamics or of modern development on archaeological records in the marine environment.”
The team used geomorphological data on the formation of Dampier Archipelago, combined with new palaeotidal modelling.
The study described potential for discovering submerged archaeological sites from the late Pleistocene (ending 11,000 years ago) and early Holocene (up to present day) sediments.
The work provided indications that past shoreline sequences exist on the sea floor along the WA coastline.
“These shoreline sequences provide the first indication where to begin to look for submerged archaeology, and what archaeological periods these sedimentary deposits represent,” says Dr Ward.
“They are so well preserved here and all along the WA coastline.
“It represents the most amazing potential for palaeolandscape reconstruction—probably better than any other part of the Australian continental shelf.”
The study showed that archaeology is most likely to be present in deposits associated with when water begun to cover the area, around 7000–9000 years ago.
Dr Ward says the geoarchaeological approach is critical to identifying sedimentary units most likely to hold preserved archaeological sites.
“One of the keys of this research is to show how vast marine geophysical datasets, taken for commercial purposes, can be used to explore submerged archaeological landscapes and help progress exploration methodologies for the other parts of the continental shelf.”