It’s late July, and Peter Ross and I are here joining in the very last field trip at Watering Cove for Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming ARC Linkage project, led by one of our Sea Country CIs, Jo McDonald. It is another opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the kinds of landscapes and archaeological sites that might have been drowned during the post-glacial transgression.
Watering Cove has great diversity of landscapes – towering boulders and cliffs overlook dune deposits, mangrove and salt flat environments, and wide beaches, seaward of which is an extensive reef limestone platform. At the northern end of Watering Cove, is an ancient eroded dyke on which the majority of rock art is found. This extends right down into the ocean. We look hopefully for rock art in the shallow waters around the dkye but find nothing. Further south is the wide dry creek above which we are camped.
Peter has already been here a week, helping to excavate the dune deposits. There were a range of midden deposits which have been explored by the team, and at their deepest (over 2m) it would seem likely that these are still only early Holocene in age. When I turn up, some of the team is moving to an inland valley to excavate a dense midden site in an area known as “Old Geos”, named after the many ancient geometric rock art motifs in the surrounding galleries. The area also hosts a number of stone circle arrangements and some possible standing stones. The surface midden here is Anadara (known to be a late Holocene phenomenon): below this is an older Terebralia (Mangrove species) layer, and below this is an artefacts layer with no shellfish remains. As is typical, on the last day, in the last spit, Peter finds a horsehoof core – an indication that the earliest occupation of this site may be even older and more complex than initially thought.
These archaeological sites and the landscape features around them, record the changing dynamics of the region. Although the resolution in most sites is coarse, covering millennia rather than centuries, the combined record provides the detail of this change. In the same way, no single underwater site can reveal the nature of the drowned coastline. The current archaeological landscapes will provide the critical analogues to guide our underwater explorations.