PALAEO ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE TAMAR VALLEY

December 2020

Human history in the Tamar Valley could extend back some 40,000 years considering that at least one site in the upper Forth River 200km west has such a basal date, but the Tamar lacks sites, caves, that could confirm this.  The only site to yield a date is at Flowery Gully, near Beaconsfield, being calibrated to c.8,000 BP a bone deposit with a bone tool.

Stratified deposits are rare being oyster located on and about western port Dalrymple, Ilfraville to east Greens Beach, but mostly destroyed post 1804 being mined by the first British invaders for lime used in constructions.  Typically the middens lack artefacts.  Opposite on a hill, the “Buffalo” south of Low Head a recent report of a rock shelter containing intertidal small molluscs, periwinkles could be important.

The principle midden is intertidal molluscs surface scatter often with stone artefacts all seemingly dating from the formation of the present sea level c.6,500 to 200 BP.  Stone artefacts lack sophistication being pebble cores and biproducts of mostly quartzite.  The finer cherty-hornfels quarried from Northern Midlands quarried outcrops are rare.  Pebbles used being obtained from beach tidal movements or river gravel deposits.

Within the Tamar Estuary of Port Dalrymple very recognisable stone arrangements exist, those of straight lines being non-Aboriginal fence foundations for enclosing cattle.  The “walls” found point to tidal stone wall fish traps again evidence suggests European, some colonial others c.1930’s.

Marsh/estuarian birds and eggs seemed to have played a significant role in the culture as a colonial report of a seat structure near Kelso testifies, around it was a group of “grass nests” containing “egg-like” pebbles with arranged waddies, used as missiles.  Sadly it no longer exists.

Upstream only single artefacts or small scatters, at Robigana a more extensive scatter was found and no doubt others exist, hidden within the bushland or destroyed by construction work or limited farming.  Just outside the valley west at Glengarry and west Frankford large surface scatter set in created open forest was found.  This lack of extensive sites continues through to Launceston.

From about Legana – Dilston to the Launceston flood plain and South and North Esk River junctions waterfowl was common especially seasonal, but the evidence of foraging is long gone.  South of Legana to Riverside, wallaby was especially common and scatter is found but so far limited due to disturbance.

Inland on both sides of the Tamar it is rugged bushland, some thick, set on soils covering rocky terrain, mostly steep and inhospitable as the colonial British found.  Resources are not considerable.

An area of extensive ochre deposits north of Beaconsfield had to have been exploited but lacks evidence due to modern workings.

Attached to our area, being the Cataract Gorge, Launceston was obviously significant but lacks archaeology.  A single petroglyph, circle, although reported cannot be located. 

A suggested Palaeo history may be considered as seen from c.40,000 BP.  Perhaps casual sojourns to 26,000 then fewer to 18,000, to 10,000 it may have been that the more extended Tamar, now submerged under Bass Strait, was mostly exploited.  At 6,500 the present sea level was reached and with spreading forest to 5,000 saw reduced Tamar Valley occupation.  An El Nino followed creating dryer conditions allowing more use of fire-sticking and expansion into the Midlands.

On Tamar Island, near Legana, a gravel deposit yielded a single rolled stone tool possibly c.8,000 BP.  Perhaps more evidence will come to light?

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Ochre

Ochres are earthy, pulverulent (reduced or crumbled to powder or dust) forms of Haematite and Limonite or friable (easily crumbled), earthy iron ore.

It is widely distributed in Tasmania, both as small pellets in gravels (Tamar Valley) or in reefs (Alum Cliffs). It takes the form of a natural pigment, browns, reds and yellow. Red in its most vivid state is most prized, yellow it seems is rarer.

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Tamar Middens

In early 1801 Philip King, now Governor, decided to establish a government coal mining operation at Newcastle. Although the expedition was nominally under the command of another officer, it included William Paterson, newly appointed as Lt-Governor.

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Tasmania’s Aboriginal Palaeo Art

This work is a collection of papers each pertinent to the art produced over thousands of years by the Palaeo-Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

Their art had roots extending back to their original homeland “Africa”, to what extent can only be wondered, but with obvious relationships that all foraging people have in common.

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