Assessing the frequency distribution of radiocarbon determinations from the archaeological record of the Late Holocene in western NSW, Australia

Simon J. Holdaway, Patricia C. Fanning, Judith Littleton

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    Abstract

    When grouped together, radiocarbon determinations from heat-retainer hearths from western New South Wales decrease in frequency with age. One interpretation for this pattern is that it reflects an increase in the frequency of occupation, and perhaps ultimately an increase in Aboriginal populations in this region during the late Holocene. An alternative explanation is that the increase in frequency reflects the differential preservation of the land surfaces on which the hearths are found. According to this explanation, the pre-servation of ancient surfaces itself decreases with time, with the destruction of ancient records of occupation accounting for the relatively recent skew in the age distribution of heat-retainer hearths. We test these hypotheses by comparing the distribution of hearth radiocarbon ages against the distribution of ages obtained from samples associated with buried human remains from western New South Wales. Samples obtained by excavating buried deposits should not be subject to the same range of erosion processes that have affected surface deposits. Therefore the samples from buried deposits are able to act as a control against which the distribution of hearth ages can be evaluated. Results indicate that age estimates obtained from human burials have a distribution different from those obtained from hearths, supporting the conclusion that the decrease in hearth frequency with age is a product of geomorphic preservation rather than cultural change.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationNew directions in archaeological science
    EditorsAndrew Fairbairn, Sue O'Connor, Ben Marwick
    Place of PublicationCanberra, Australia
    PublisherANU E Press
    Pages1-11
    Number of pages11
    ISBN (Print)9781921536489
    Publication statusPublished - 2009

    Keywords

    • radiocarbon
    • hearths
    • chronology
    • western New South Wales
    • human burial

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  • Cite this

    Holdaway, S. J., Fanning, P. C., & Littleton, J. (2009). Assessing the frequency distribution of radiocarbon determinations from the archaeological record of the Late Holocene in western NSW, Australia. In A. Fairbairn, S. O'Connor, & B. Marwick (Eds.), New directions in archaeological science (pp. 1-11). Canberra, Australia: ANU E Press.