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Lithics in the land of the lightning brothers: the archaeology of Wardaman Country, Northern Territory

Lithics in the land of the lightning brothers: the archaeology of Wardaman Country, Northern Territory

Clarkson, Christopher (Christopher James)

This monograph reports on 15,000 years of technological and social change in a region of northern Australia located on the edge of the semi-arid zone amidst mesas, deep gorges and dry basalt plains. It is a region best known for its spectacular rock art, and more particularly the striped anthropomorphic figures known as the Lightning Brothers which decorate the walls of some rockshelters in the south of the traditional lands of the Wardaman people. The region is also known for its rich archaeological record, and has been the subject of intensive archaeological study since Davidson's research there in the 1930s. This monograph is based on a PhD thesis submitted at the Australian National University in 2004. It employs foraging theory and recent thinking about the strategic organisation of lithic technology to explore changing settlement and subsistence practices in this region since the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Applying this approach to the explanation of assemblage variability in Wardaman Country offers new insights into the possible reasons for technological and social change in this region over the last 15,000 years. Two chapters that originally appeared in the PhD Thesis, one expounding the role of modern Darwinian theory in the explanation of cultural change and another exploring technological provisioning across space in Wardaman Country do not appear in this monograph. The ideas about technological responses to different foraging practices developed in this monograph are tested against assemblage data from four rockshelters located in different parts of Wardaman Country. The results of the study suggest that major changes in lithic technology and land use took place in reaction to increased subsistence risk brought on by declines in the abundance and predictability of resources. These declines may have been triggered by the onset of ENSO-driven climatic variability after 5,000 BP, which appears to have reached its greatest severity in northern Australia between c. 3,500 and 2,000 BP. This study has important implications for our understanding of northern Australian prehistory, including the potential causes of broadly similar technological changes across large parts of the top end, the timing of increased inter-regional contact and the spread of new technologies. It also illustrates the importance of tracking continuity in manufacturing traditions as a means of understanding the kinds of social processes that underlie regional technological changes

eBook, Electronic resource, Book. English. Electronic books.
Published Canberra, A.C.T. : ANU E Press 2007

This resource is available electronically from the following locations


Statement of responsibility: Chris Clarkson
Note: Includes bibliographical references (pages 169-185).
Note: Print version record.
Physical Description: 1 online resource (xvii, 221 pages) : illustrations, maps.
System: Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.
Series: Terra australis ; 25
Subject: Nordterritorium (Australien); Funde.; Victoria River Region (N.T.) Antiquities.; Social archaeology Australia Victoria River Region (N.T.); Wardaman (Australian people) Australia Victoria River Region (N.T.) Antiquities.; Excavations (Archaeology) Australia Victoria River Region (N.T.); Cave dwellings Australia Victoria River Region (N.T.); Stone implements Australia Victoria River Region (N.T.); SOCIAL SCIENCE Archaeology.
Restrictions: Use copy Restrictions unspecified
Reproduction: Electronic reproduction. [S.l.]: HathiTrust Digital Library, 2010.
Series Title: Terra Australis ; 25.
Local note: JSTOR Books at JSTOR Open Access


  1. Defining Research Questions in Northern Australian Lithic Studies
  2. Modelling Optimality in Subsistence and Technology
  3. Procedures for Lithic Analysis
  4. Wardaman Country: Physiography and Climate Change
  5. The Sites: Nimji, Garnawala 2, Gordolya and Jagoliya
  6. Reduction Sequences: Artefact Form and Manufacturing Technology in Wardaman Country
  7. Change and Continuity in Stone Artefact Manufacture
  8. Wardaman Country in Broader Context: A New Look at North Australian Prehistory
  9. References
  10. Appendixes.

    1. Attributes recorded on stone artefacts
    2. Descriptions of excavated materials from Nimji
    3. Descriptions of excavated materials from Garnawala 2
    4. Descriptions of excavated materials from Jagoliya
    5. Descriptions of excavated materials from Gordolya.