Dig reveals ancient treasures

Caitlyn WattsPilbara News
A six metre ladder found in a rock shelter in the Western Range.
Camera IconA six metre ladder found in a rock shelter in the Western Range. Credit: Pictures: Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation

A recent excavation has uncovered the oldest wooden artefact in the Pilbara along with evidence of one of Australia’s most ancient places.

Archae-Aus and Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation excavated six rock shelter sites in the Western Range, a location about 25 minutes from Paraburdoo untouched by mining.

During the excavation, chert artefacts, a hearth, wooden ladder, stone artefacts, burnt ochre, digging stick and grinding material were among the discoveries found.

The wooden ladder was found to be 687 years old while the digging stick dates back 1723 years ago, making it the oldest wooden artefact in the Pilbara.

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Carbon dating revealed the artefacts were made in one of the rock shelters by a fireplace about 36,050 years ago.

Another site has returned dates of 30,000 years old. However, the excavation is not yet complete, leaving archaeologists to believe the place is at least 40,000 years old, making it one of the most ancient places in the country.

YWC archaeologist Anna Fagan said the sites, which held extremely high archaeological and ecological significance, would have once been a refuge for Aboriginal people in WA.

“To find a wooden artefact that old is pretty remarkable as usually these things perish,” she said.

“The recent excavations of just six rock shelters demonstrate the archaeological and cultural richness of the Western Range.

“The fact that all these places returned ancient dates and two of them returned some of the oldest in all of Australia demonstrates what is potentially being overlooked due to the constraints and research limitations of compliance archaeology in WA. The Western Range is covered with rock shelters.

“Due to the steepness of the terrain, the gorges and gullies that incise the range collect permanent water, provide shade and shelter from the elements, house some of Australia’s most threatened plant and animal species, essentially creating a paradise for all forms of life to persist in the arid zone throughout deep time.”

Dr Fagan said she hoped further rigorous and systematic study of the sites would be undertaken to help uncover the depth of history of Innawonga country and its people.

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