Parnkupirti : Parukuproject
Parnkupirti is located along the border of the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia and represents rare circumstances where alkaline freshwater meets the arid desert; juxtaposing two very distinct environments (Bowler, Wyrwoll & Lu, 2001; Veth, et al., 2009).
Recent excavations at Parnkupirti have been focussed on assessing the site’s future potential for additional research relating to arid communities in the central and western desert. Evaluation of the regional area an array of past shoreline features signifying periods when the lake area was significantly larger than the present day.
This presence of a freshwater ecosystem with an abundance of birds, mussels and fish, set with the adjacent dunes makes it highly probable that Parnkupirti was heavily exploited by hunter-gatherer communities (Veth, et al., 2009).
It can, therefore, be argued to hold significant amounts of archaeological data that will contribute to our understandings of Australian desert communities. Initial investigations by Veth, et al. (2009) assessed three sites at Parnkupirti, where the stratigraphy of each site gave an indication into the sequential alterations in dynamic fluvial discharges and fluctuations in lake levels.
A richness of stone tool technologies was later assessed from pilot excavations at site three, identifying lithic tools constructed from local chert and quartzite. Veth, et al. (2009) illustrates that this material scatter is of late Holocene age, due to its abundance of tulas and tula slugs. Found in situ within the cobble bed (Unit C), a large silcrete core referred to PKP4-1 has been named the most significant discovery during the 2008 excavations.
Dating using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), stratigraphic correlations between site two and three confined ages of Unit C to ~40- 50ka (Veth, et al., 2009). By association and the position of PKP4-1 in the cobble bed, it has been estimated that the silcrete core is most likely to be within a ~50-45ka range.
This proves the sites significance as the first evidence of activity within the arid northwest region dating before the Last Glacial Maximum. The preliminary research carried out at Parnkupirti has opened the doors for additional investigation in the area. Findings during this initial study yielded substantial information regarding Pleistocene occupation of western desert communities, where Veth, et al. (2009) has concluded that Lake Gregory will prove to be a ‘northern analogue for the Willandra Lakes’.
The arid desert represents the largest proportion of the continent, where human exploitation of these sites is invaluable to our understandings of early hunter-gatherer populations in Australia. Debates on the conservatism and uniformity of desert life have been challenged by the archaeological assessment at Puntutjarpa, Puritjarra and Parnkupirti. It is now known that hunter-gatherer communities represent highly dynamic populations that have been occupying the central arid zone for over 35 000 years.
These variations correspond to climatic changes that would have directly influenced these hunter-gatherer communities throughout the terminal Pleistocene. In particular, Puntutjarpa offers new insights into the conclusion of multiple reconfigurations of technological, economic and social practices, where recent excavations at Parnkupirti indicate that it offers a richness of archaeological material that has yet to be discovered.
Due to the immense amount of information these sites have already portrayed, additional information would heavily contribute to our understandings of some of the early human communities within Australia. Furthermore, the analysis of desert communities assesses human resilience and ability to adjust economic and social strategies in some of the most environmentally challenging ecosystems on the planet.
References: Part One, two and three:
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Written by Ashleigh Murszewski
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