Gledswood Rockshelter: Investigating Human Occupational History and Interaction in Inland Northwest Queensland

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1708 Words
Date:  2023-01-24


Like elsewhere in Australia, the archeology of northwest Queensland has focused on the antiquity of occupation and the continuity of that occupation through the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), in an attempt to understand the adaptive capabilities and strategies of early humans better (Lowe, 2014). Presently, there are limited sites in Australia that avail insight into the timing and nature of the human occupation. Gledswood Shelter 1 is one such site, located in a region that has been characterized as a potential corridor for early colonists moving into the arid interior. Stone artifacts recovered at the site have been dated to approximately 38,000 years (Keys, 2009). Nevertheless, questions concerning whether the deepest artifacts at the shelter are in situ or if occupations of this site were continuous, intermittent or abandoned through the height of the last glacial maximum have not yet been satisfactorily answered.

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A key feature of understanding and resolving these questions is an understanding of the site formation processes within the archeological site. Matters of stratigraphy, mainly recognizing and dating discrete episodes of human occupation, have been the major hindrance to previous research. Hence, an understanding of site formation processes can avail an understanding of the depositional history and the people associated with it. Technical analysis of the assemblage of Square B of the Gledswood Shelter 1 site will be conducted to understand the episodes of human occupation and behavior, and the site formation processes. The site has been established as the case study for meeting the research aims and addressing the framed research questions.

Project Aim

The research in this paper aims to understand the occupational history of the Gledswood Shelter 1 better and its relation to other sites. The project also strives to use stone tool analysis to examine the raw material classes, whether they changed over time, how the materials were collected, and possibly, whether the exchange was involved. This, alongside the investigation of the artifact manufacture and reduction sequences, can avail good insight into the technological evolution and knowledge in North Australia.

Research Questions

The project thus seeks to answer the following research questions:

  • What can the material culture of the Gledswood Shelter 1 tell us about the social structures and adaptive strategies of early humans in Inland Northwest Queensland?
  • What is the occupational history of the Gledswood Shelter 1 and how does it compare to other sites?

Study Region

Gledswood Shelter I is a site located in the interior of semi-arid tropical northern Australia characterized by a short, hot, wet season and a long cool, dry season. It is a small overhang formed because of cavernous weathering at the base of a weathered 8 meters high Mesozoic sandstone outcrop. Some sandstone outliers and exposed bedrock outcrops surround the site. Like nearly all the overhangs in the vicinity, Gledswood Shelter 1 contains a range of stenciled art; mostly hand stencils and occasional pecked geometric motifs (Keys, 2009). The floor is sandy, supporting minimal vegetation. The interior space is approximately 7 meters wide, with a height to the roof of 3-5 meters at the drip-line, which provides a protected living area. Beyond the drip-line, the lightly wooded ground surface extends 60 meters south and west from the outcrop before dropping down around 15 meters to the Strathpark Plains.

Investigations were conducted in 2006 and 2008, which included a geophysical survey of the shelter deposit, site recording, and excavation (Wallis et. al, 2009). Initial CI4 dating results date the archaeological deposits to approximately 28,000 years ago, with calibrated dates (95.4% probability) up to 37,742 BP in Square CI and up to 18,369 BP in Square BI; the excavations in 2006 alone unearthed more than 13,000 artifacts (Lowe et. al, 2016; Wallis et. al, 2009). Consequently, this site can be utilized as a case study to understand human occupation in a sandstone environment (Keys, 2009). Gledswood Shelter 1 fits the biogeographic models of colonization and it is a site possibly occupied through the last glacial maximum, which make it particularly unique.

Literature Review

Literature plays a significant role in the recovery and analysis of archaeology, particularly in the case of investigating human occupational history and interaction through stone tool analysis. As the project investigates a stone tool assemblage in inland Northwest Queensland, it provides similar knowledge concerning the evolution in Northwest Australia (Wallis et al., 2009). However, this section will review the related literature concerning the study and give different gaps in the literature that the study attempts to fill and provide answers.

Due to abundance and durability, stone artifacts have become a popular research material in archaeology. In the history of human activity, stone artifacts are essential in the survival of human both spiritual and personal since they increase the understanding of prior cultural variabilities, adaptation, along with other critical human structures that define cultural and social patterns. In many cases, stone artifacts are usually the most durable shreds of evidence constituting the only surviving trace of people years ago; in this case concerning stone tool analysis from Gledswood Rock shelter (Clarkson & O'Connor, 2013). Moreover, it constitutes a vast record of the enormous diversity of strategies people have devised to make a living, communicate, solve social problems, as well as life with each other. Technology is an integral element of the culture variability, change, and adaptability, which through various studies, the symbolic role of stone artifacts in delivering ideological approaches (Clarkson & O'Connor, 2013).

In the involvement of the tools and cores dealing with the stone tool analysis, the typological systems play a significant role as well. According to Hiscock (2007), the typological approach represents a classification theory, which is vital in the reduction of variability down to places that chronological changes are apparent. In as much as the strategy relies on the presumption that the involved artifacts were because of planned design, Hiscock (2007) focuses on elaborating assemblage. Additionally, Hiscock and Clarkson (2000) provide an analysis of the Australian stone artifacts through the consideration of various methodologies that assist in understanding stone tool analysis. Through the studies, they emphasize the quest for an understanding of motive factors, trends, and constraints about the archaeological investigation over the last 25 years.

In most of the examinations of stone artifact assemblages in Australia, they have been proceeded by the application of a conventional and widely accepted classification. There are numerous classifications; however, given the common intellectual knowledge and lineage of prior classifiers, there could be similarities in the stone tools along with the characteristics involving the tools. It means that the classifications ought to provide data significant to the questions concerning the involved research projects whereby classifications should be designed suited to the needs of the research rather than constrained within traditional and past typologies (Hiscock & Clarkson, 2000).

Social structures and human adaptive strategies are amongst the significant aspects in understanding human occupational history. Under the involvement of the assemblage from Gledswood Rock shelter, using Geoarchaeology would play a vital role in understanding it as well. In a research thesis by Keys (2009), he goes into depth concerning the Gledswood shelter one site. As the study applies the multi-techniques investigation approach, it examines the relationship between the material record at Gledswood shelter one site and site formation processes. Depending on the actual location and environmental context that stone artifacts are collected, the geoarchaeological approach comprehends the validity of the tools by providing a perception concerning the user's behavior (Keys, 2009).

With the evolution of time and development, there is the changing of stone technologies, site use, and occupational intensities. For instance, in a study on the technical analysis of a lithic assemblage at Fern Cave, it tests various issues associated with increased flaked stone artifacts. The study utilized six methods during the investigation including core rotation, raw material use, heat treatment, bipolar technique, edge damage, and stage of core reduction and provided the different shifts on the utilized methods (Lamb, 1996). Regarding this, the Australian Gledswood Rockshelter holds critical documentation of anthropological practices. According to a study, Lowe, Mentzer, Wallis, and Shulmeister (2018), explore the geoarchaeological and geomorphological approaches in understanding the integration of geochronology to understand the occupational practices. Original depositional materials, like laminations and sediment physical change, is low, revealing magnetic changes that coincide with the occupational practices of the human due to anthropogenic burning (Lowe et al., 2018). According to the study, it shows new calibrated dates with a 95.4% confidence level even though the initial radiocarbon measurements were about 28,000 years ago for the site (Lowe et al., 2018).

In the technical analysis of a stone tool assemblage, classifications are critical since in most of the cases the stone tools gradually reduce during use. According to a study by Shott, Bradbury, Carr, and Odell (2000), they derive that reduction delivers insight about the curation of a stone tool. Through this, it enhances the understanding concerning the flake size, increasing the possibilities in the attempt to uncover the original size of a tool based on their reduction.

To sum everything up, there are significant shreds of information in previous literature concerning the involvement of stone tools in social structure; however, minimal information is provided about the study of human occupation history and interaction in Northwest Queensland along with stone tool analysis. Moreover, there are gaps in prior literature since they offer more question concerning stone tool analysis than answers. These gaps create the need for further study in an attempt to investigate and examine the involvement of stone tools in defining occupational history and human adaptive techniques. With the present study, it aims to explore the stone tool assemblage from Northwest Queensland and compare to previous literature and knowledge on the technological evolution of stone tool analysis. In addition, it is vital since it helps provide reliable answers to various questions identified in prior studies and elaborate on the diverse exchange of raw materials in connection to the social structures of the involved location.


The study will comprise of technical analysis of the assemblage of Square B of the Gledswood Shelter. Mainly, this will involve conducting a technological analysis using literature as a framework, and sourcing the raw materials to see which distances would have been traveled. Notably, sourcing of the raw materials can give valuable information on social interaction, exchange networks, changing access to stone resources, and processes of cultural change (Clarkson & Connor, 2013; Hiscock & Clarkson, 2000). The analysis will comprise distinguishing between cores and shatter, look at dorsal scars, measurements, and weights of each artifact. As a framework, tables by Phagan (1985) and...

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Gledswood Rockshelter: Investigating Human Occupational History and Interaction in Inland Northwest Queensland. (2023, Jan 24). Retrieved from

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