Who would have thought a box of artefacts from a remote shelter in northwest Queensland could contain such a complex story of the past 10,000 years? Well at least it has proved to be a much more complex story than I could have imagined and I have only managed to scratch the surface as part of my directed study. The project has proven to be more demanding in time and effort than any other subject I have undertaken and still there is so much that seems incomplete and in need of further research. There is more than a thesis waiting in just one square of excavation from Gledswood Shelter 1 (GS1).
Part of my study involved age-depth modelling. This is the process of using the radiocarbon dates obtained from the spits throughout the excavation to understand the history of sedimentation at the site. Age-depth modelling is a science in its own right and what I learned from my study was that GS1 warrants a thorough modelling of its history of sedimentation using some of the modern techniques available, such as linear regression, splines and interpolation. This work alone would be enough for a directed study project.
I also learned that what you think you see is probably not what you can see. My tendency was to see trends in the spits in terms of artefacts numbers and to believe that these trends were real. However, once these numbers were correlated with time in the age depth model a very different picture emerged. What appeared to be a peak in artefact numbers was not, and what did not appear to be a peak in artefact numbers was.
Evidence of the use of stone axes such as the axe pictured is seen as small basalt fragments throughout the excavation at GS1
Once the trends were understood it was time to make sense of this through researching the available literature. A trend towards increased activity at the site seems to correlate with a wider trend that occurred across northern Australia during the mid to late Holocene, where populations moved into more marginal areas exploiting food sources not previously used, such as the toxic seeds of cycads. These changes were believed to be responses to rapid climatic changes that required innovations in the way people lived off and used the land, and the technologies available to them. There are many more questions to be answered in relation to these responses to change. For example, there are reports that some sites show evidence of responses to change in the mid Holocene, whilst others show evidence later in the Holocene, sometimes a couple of thousands of years apart. The site specific nature of these responses is a complex question and GS1 still has many questions to be explored.
Perhaps this project taught me more about research than it did about GS1. Sometimes, when I thought I saw clear evidence of a pattern, there was a tendency to search for evidence that would support it. However, this had the effect of excluding information that might challenge my hypotheses. When I became aware of this behaviour I could adjust my approach to research and sure enough the result would often be quite different to what I believed I was observing.
This directed study has been a great journey and I have learned more from this topic than any other. Thanks to Lynley Wallis my Industry Partner who has assisted me throughout my project.