Using surface archaeology to understand human-environment interactions: a geoarchaeological approach

Simon J. Holdaway, Patricia C. Fanning, Edward J. Rhodes

    Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting abstract


    The conventional approach to assessing the archaeological record in most parts of the world involves a combination of excavation of stratified deposits and extensive survey of surface deposits. The stratified deposits allow a chronology of past human occupation to be developed, given the presence of suitable material for absolute dating, while the surface deposits provide an indication of the pattern of past human occupation across space. The combination is used to infer a history of occupation within a particular geographic region. Although widely applied in Australia, in both research based and management archaeology, the method does not conform well to the nature of the surface archaeological record here. This paper will summarise the research of the Western New South Wales Archaeology Program which, over the past twelve years, has examined the surface archaeological record in its landscape setting. Over much of semi-arid and arid Australia, archaeological ‘sites’ are, in fact, accretionary phenomena (or ‘palimpsests’) that are not easily interpreted as the outcome of short-term behavioural events. Moreover, while the landscapes in which we work may appear to be unchanging over considerable periods of time, in fact there is considerable variability in landsurface age, and hence the ‘availability’ of archaeological surfaces, over relatively short distances. Therefore it cannot be assumed that stone artefact deposits, for example, that appear to be similar in character are of similar age. We outline an alternative approach based on a geoarchaeological assessment of landscape potential and a targeted sampling strategy as a more viable way of assessing the archaeological record of this and similar regions. We will also discuss the types of behavioural interpretations that can be developed for stone artefact assemblages that are the result of multiple occupations spanning hundreds and in some cases thousands of years.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)175-175
    Number of pages1
    JournalXVII INQUA congress, the tropics : heat engine of the quaternary
    Publication statusPublished - 2007
    EventInternational Union for Quaternary Research (17th : 2007) - Cains
    Duration: 29 Jul 20073 Aug 2007


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