Publications by authors named "Kira Westaway"

10 Publications

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Archaeology and art in context: Excavations at the Gunu Site Complex, Northwest Kimberley, Western Australia.

PLoS One 2020 5;15(2):e0226628. Epub 2020 Feb 5.

Centre for Archaeological Science, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia.

The Kimberley region of Western Australia is one of the largest and most diverse rock art provenances in the world, with a complex stylistic sequence spanning at least 16 ka, culminating in the modern art-making of the Wunumbal people. The Gunu Site Complex, in the remote Mitchell River region of the northwest Kimberley, is one of many local expressions of the Kimberley rock art sequence. Here we report excavations at two sites in this complex: Gunu Rock, a sand sheet adjacent to rock art panels; and Gunu Cave, a floor deposit within an extensive rockshelter. Excavations at Gunu Rock provide evidence for two phases of occupation, the first from 7-8 to 2.7 ka, and the second from 1064 cal BP. Excavations at Gunu Rock provide evidence for occupation from the end of the second phase to the recent past. Stone for tools in the early phase were procured from a variety of sources, but quartz crystal reduction dominated the second occupation phase. Small quartz crystals were reduced by freehand percussion to provide small flake tools and blanks for manufacturing small points called nguni by the Wunambal people today. Quartz crystals were prominent in historic ritual practices associated with the Wanjina belief system. Complex methods of making bifacially-thinned and pressure flaked quartzite projectile points emerged after 2.7 ka. Ochre pigments were common in both occupation phases, but evidence for occupation contemporaneous with the putative age of the oldest rock art styles was not discovered in the excavations. Our results show that developing a complete understanding of rock art production and local occupation patterns requires paired excavations inside and outside of the rockshelters that dominate the Kimberley.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0226628PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7001911PMC
April 2020

Last appearance of Homo erectus at Ngandong, Java, 117,000-108,000 years ago.

Nature 2020 01 18;577(7790):381-385. Epub 2019 Dec 18.

Department of Anthropology and Museum of Natural History, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA.

Homo erectus is the founding early hominin species of Island Southeast Asia, and reached Java (Indonesia) more than 1.5 million years ago. Twelve H. erectus calvaria (skull caps) and two tibiae (lower leg bones) were discovered from a bone bed located about 20 m above the Solo River at Ngandong (Central Java) between 1931 and 1933, and are of the youngest, most-advanced form of H. erectus. Despite the importance of the Ngandong fossils, the relationship between the fossils, terrace fill and ages have been heavily debated. Here, to resolve the age of the Ngandong evidence, we use Bayesian modelling of 52 radiometric age estimates to establish-to our knowledge-the first robust chronology at regional, valley and local scales. We used uranium-series dating of speleothems to constrain regional landscape evolution; luminescence, argon/argon (Ar/Ar) and uranium-series dating to constrain the sequence of terrace evolution; and applied uranium-series and uranium series-electron-spin resonance (US-ESR) dating to non-human fossils to directly date our re-excavation of Ngandong. We show that at least by 500 thousand years ago (ka) the Solo River was diverted into the Kendeng Hills, and that it formed the Solo terrace sequence between 316 and 31 ka and the Ngandong terrace between about 140 and 92 ka. Non-human fossils recovered during the re-excavation of Ngandong date to between 109 and 106 ka (uranium-series minimum) and 134 and 118 ka (US-ESR), with modelled ages of 117 to 108 thousand years (kyr) for the H. erectus bone bed, which accumulated during flood conditions. These results negate the extreme ages that have been proposed for the site and solidify Ngandong as the last known occurrence of this long-lived species.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1863-2DOI Listing
January 2020

Macro-charcoal accumulation in floodplain wetlands: Problems and prospects for reconstruction of fire regimes and environmental conditions.

PLoS One 2019 24;14(10):e0224011. Epub 2019 Oct 24.

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Lucas Heights, NSW, Australia.

Floodplain wetland ecosystems respond dynamically to flooding, fire and geomorphological processes. We employed a combined geomorphological and environmental proxy approach to assess allochthonous and autochthonous macro-charcoal accumulation in the Macquarie Marshes, Australia, with implications for the reconstruction of fire regimes and environmental conditions in large, open-system wetlands. After accounting for fluvial macro-charcoal flux (1.05 ± 0.32 no. cm-2 a-1), autochthonous macro-charcoal in ~1 m deep sediment profiles spanning ~1.7 ka were highly variable and inconsistent between cores and wetlands (concentrations from 0 to 438 no. cm-3, mean accumulation rates from 0 to 3.86 no. cm-2 a-1). A positive correlation existed between the number of recent fires, satellite-observed ignition points, and macro-charcoal concentrations at the surface of the wetlands. Sedimentology, geochemistry, and carbon stable isotopes (δ13C range -15 to -25 ‰) were similar in all cores from both wetlands and varied little with depth. Application of macro-charcoal and other environmental proxy techniques is inherently difficult in large, dynamic wetland systems due to variations in charcoal sources, sediment and charcoal deposition rates, and taphonomic processes. Major problems facing fire history reconstruction using macro-charcoal records in these wetlands include: (1) spatial and temporal variations in fire activity and ash and charcoal products within the wetlands, (2) variations in allochthonous inputs of charcoal from upstream sources, (3) tendency for geomorphic dynamism to affect flow dispersal and sediment and charcoal accumulation, and (4) propensity for post-depositional modification and/or destruction of macro-charcoal by flooding and taphonomic processes. Recognition of complex fire-climate-hydrology-vegetation interactions is essential. High-resolution, multifaceted approaches with reliable geochronologies are required to assess spatial and temporal patterns of fire and to reconstruct in order to interpret wetland fire regimes.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0224011PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6812773PMC
March 2020

A reassessment of the early archaeological record at Leang Burung 2, a Late Pleistocene rock-shelter site on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

PLoS One 2018 11;13(4):e0193025. Epub 2018 Apr 11.

Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia.

This paper presents a reassessment of the archaeological record at Leang Burung 2, a key early human occupation site in the Late Pleistocene of Southeast Asia. Excavated originally by Ian Glover in 1975, this limestone rock-shelter in the Maros karsts of Sulawesi, Indonesia, has long held significance in our understanding of early human dispersals into 'Wallacea', the vast zone of oceanic islands between continental Asia and Australia. We present new stratigraphic information and dating evidence from Leang Burung 2 collected during the course of our excavations at this site in 2007 and 2011-13. Our findings suggest that the classic Late Pleistocene modern human occupation sequence identified previously at Leang Burung 2, and proposed to span around 31,000 to 19,000 conventional 14C years BP (~35-24 ka cal BP), may actually represent an amalgam of reworked archaeological materials. Sources for cultural materials of mixed ages comprise breccias from the rear wall of the rock-shelter-remnants of older, eroded deposits dated to 35-23 ka cal BP-and cultural remains of early Holocene antiquity. Below the upper levels affected by the mass loss of Late Pleistocene deposits, our deep-trench excavations uncovered evidence for an earlier hominin presence at the site. These findings include fossils of now-extinct proboscideans and other 'megafauna' in stratified context, as well as a cobble-based stone artifact technology comparable to that produced by late Middle Pleistocene hominins elsewhere on Sulawesi.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0193025PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5894965PMC
July 2018

Into the Past: A Step Towards a Robust Kimberley Rock Art Chronology.

PLoS One 2016 31;11(8):e0161726. Epub 2016 Aug 31.

Department of Parks and Wildlife, Government of Western Australia, Kununurra, Western Australia, Australia.

The recent establishment of a minimum age estimate of 39.9 ka for the origin of rock art in Sulawesi has challenged claims that Western Europe was the locus for the production of the world's earliest art assemblages. Tantalising excavated evidence found across northern Australian suggests that Australia too contains a wealth of ancient art. However, the dating of rock art itself remains the greatest obstacle to be addressed if the significance of Australian assemblages are to be recognised on the world stage. A recent archaeological project in the northwest Kimberley trialled three dating techniques in order to establish chronological markers for the proposed, regional, relative stylistic sequence. Applications using optically-stimulated luminescence (OSL) provided nine minimum age estimates for fossilised mudwasp nests overlying a range of rock art styles, while Accelerator Mass Spectrometry radiocarbon (AMS 14C) results provided an additional four. Results confirm that at least one phase of the northwest Kimberley rock art assemblage is Pleistocene in origin. A complete motif located on the ceiling of a rockshelter returned a minimum age estimate of 16 ± 1 ka. Further, our results demonstrate the inherent problems in relying solely on stylistic classifications to order rock art assemblages into temporal sequences. An earlier than expected minimum age estimate for one style and a maximum age estimate for another together illustrate that the Holocene Kimberley rock art sequence is likely to be far more complex than generally accepted with different styles produced contemporaneously well into the last few millennia. It is evident that reliance on techniques that produce minimum age estimates means that many more dating programs will need to be undertaken before the stylistic sequence can be securely dated.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0161726PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5006964PMC
July 2017

Revised stratigraphy and chronology for Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua in Indonesia.

Nature 2016 Apr 30;532(7599):366-9. Epub 2016 Mar 30.

Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia.

Homo floresiensis, a primitive hominin species discovered in Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua (Flores, Indonesia), has generated wide interest and scientific debate. A major reason this taxon is controversial is because the H. floresiensis-bearing deposits, which include associated stone artefacts and remains of other extinct endemic fauna, were dated to between about 95 and 12 thousand calendar years (kyr) ago. These ages suggested that H. floresiensis survived until long after modern humans reached Australia by ~50 kyr ago. Here we report new stratigraphic and chronological evidence from Liang Bua that does not support the ages inferred previously for the H. floresiensis holotype (LB1), ~18 thousand calibrated radiocarbon years before present (kyr cal. BP), or the time of last appearance of this species (about 17 or 13-11 kyr cal. BP). Instead, the skeletal remains of H. floresiensis and the deposits containing them are dated to between about 100 and 60 kyr ago, whereas stone artefacts attributable to this species range from about 190 to 50 kyr in age. Whether H. floresiensis survived after 50 kyr ago--potentially encountering modern humans on Flores or other hominins dispersing through southeast Asia, such as Denisovans--is an open question.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature17179DOI Listing
April 2016

Early modern humans and morphological variation in Southeast Asia: fossil evidence from Tam Pa Ling, Laos.

PLoS One 2015 7;10(4):e0121193. Epub 2015 Apr 7.

Unité Mixte de Recherche 5288 Anthropobiologie et Imagerie Anatomique, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, France; Evolutionary Studies Institute and Kromdraai Research Project, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Little is known about the timing of modern human emergence and occupation in Eastern Eurasia. However a rapid migration out of Africa into Southeast Asia by at least 60 ka is supported by archaeological, paleogenetic and paleoanthropological data. Recent discoveries in Laos, a modern human cranium (TPL1) from Tam Pa Ling's cave, provided the first evidence for the presence of early modern humans in mainland Southeast Asia by 63-46 ka. In the current study, a complete human mandible representing a second individual, TPL 2, is described using discrete traits and geometric morphometrics with an emphasis on determining its population affinity. The TPL2 mandible has a chin and other discrete traits consistent with early modern humans, but it retains a robust lateral corpus and internal corporal morphology typical of archaic humans across the Old World. The mosaic morphology of TPL2 and the fully modern human morphology of TPL1 suggest that a large range of morphological variation was present in early modern human populations residing in the eastern Eurasia by MIS 3.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0121193PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4388508PMC
March 2016

First discovery of Pleistocene orangutan (Pongo sp.) fossils in Peninsular Malaysia: biogeographic and paleoenvironmental implications.

J Hum Evol 2013 Dec 5;65(6):770-97. Epub 2013 Nov 5.

Department of Geology, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Electronic address:

Nine isolated fossil Pongo teeth from two cave sites in Peninsular Malaysia are reported. These are the first fossil Pongo specimens recorded in Peninsular Malaysia and represent significant southward extensions of the ancient Southeast Asian continental range of fossil Pongo during two key periods of the Quaternary. These new records from Peninsular Malaysia show that ancestral Pongo successfully passed the major biogeographical divide between mainland continental Southeast Asia and the Sunda subregion before 500 ka (thousand years ago). If the presence of Pongo remains in fossil assemblages indicates prevailing forest habitat, then the persistence of Pongo at Batu Caves until 60 ka implies that during the Last Glacial Phase sufficient forest cover persisted in the west coast plain of what is now Peninsular Malaysia at least ten millennia after a presumed corridor of desiccation had extended to central and east Java. Ultimately, environmental conditions of the peninsula during the Last Glacial Maximum evidently became inhospitable for Pongo, causing local extinction. Following post-glacial climatic amelioration and reforestation, a renewed sea barrier prevented re-colonization from the rainforest refugium in Sumatra, accounting for the present day absence of Pongo in apparently hospitable lowland evergreen rainforest of Peninsular Malaysia. The new teeth provide further evidence that Pongo did not undergo a consistent trend toward dental size reduction over time.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2013.09.005DOI Listing
December 2013

Anatomically modern human in Southeast Asia (Laos) by 46 ka.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2012 Sep 20;109(36):14375-80. Epub 2012 Aug 20.

Department Homme Nature Société, National Museum of Natural History, Unité Mixte de Recherche 7206/Unité Scientifique du Muséum 104, 75005 Paris France.

Uncertainties surround the timing of modern human emergence and occupation in East and Southeast Asia. Although genetic and archeological data indicate a rapid migration out of Africa and into Southeast Asia by at least 60 ka, mainland Southeast Asia is notable for its absence of fossil evidence for early modern human occupation. Here we report on a modern human cranium from Tam Pa Ling, Laos, which was recovered from a secure stratigraphic context. Radiocarbon and luminescence dating of the surrounding sediments provide a minimum age of 51-46 ka, and direct U-dating of the bone indicates a maximum age of ~63 ka. The cranium has a derived modern human morphology in features of the frontal, occipital, maxillae, and dentition. It is also differentiated from western Eurasian archaic humans in aspects of its temporal, occipital, and dental morphology. In the context of an increasingly documented archaic-modern morphological mosaic among the earliest modern humans in western Eurasia, Tam Pa Ling establishes a definitively modern population in Southeast Asia at ~50 ka cal BP. As such, it provides the earliest skeletal evidence for fully modern humans in mainland Southeast Asia.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1208104109DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3437904PMC
September 2012