A tale of three caves:New dates for Pleistocene occupation in the inland Pilbara


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Publication Date

January 2014


Preliminary results of test-pit excavations in Yurlu Kankala and Kariyarra Rockshelter demonstrate the repeated occupation of a topographically distinct ‘island of high land’, in the northeastern Pilbara by Aboriginal people from 45,000 years ago to historical times. These results are the first Pilbara Pleistocene dates from sites outside the Hamersley Range and confirm occupation of this region prior to that in the central and western Pilbara and, at Yurlu Kankala, through the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). A third excavated site, Kunpaja Cave, provides evidence of inland Pilbara occupation through climatic amelioration following the LGM. All three sites are large, highly visible shelters located on ridges or hills, with commanding views over the surrounding land and access to major water sources. It is suggested that these factors played a key role in the discovery and occupation of Yurlu Kankala and Karriyarra Rockshelter by some of the Pilbara’s first settlers, and of Kunpaja Cave as people expanded their territories as the climatic conditions of the LGM changed.


Pleistocene, Pilbara

Document Type



Australian Archaeology, Vol. 79, no. 1 (2014-01-01).