Kenniff Cave Rehistory of Australia

Archaeological Sites: Kenniff Cave

The archaeological site of Kenniff Cave in Australia, offers great insight into the evidence for the Aboriginal occupation of Australia during the Pleistocene. For this article, I will use archaeological evidence to show the importance and significance of this site.

There are three reasons why the site of Kenniff Cave is important to Australian pre-history. “Firstly, it has an unusually wide range of artefacts and contains a small but representative sample of most of the major Australian prehistoric tool types, including all the small composite tools. Secondly, occupation extended over an extremely long time, from the present back into the Pleistocene. Thirdly, and most importantly, it was the site that provided the basis for the recognition of an earlier and a later technological phase in Australian prehistory” (Flood, p.97).

Human occupation at Kenniff Cave has been dated to around 19,000 – 20,000 BP (Before Present time). The site, located in a sandstone cliff above Meteor Creek in Queensland, has been excavated by John Mulvaney. The cave is 11ft deep, consisting of light and dark coloured sands. One of the most beautiful images at Kenniff Cave is the stencilling of a hand and stone axe in ochre.

In excavating Kenniff Cave, Mulvaney and his team used phosphate analysis to show occupation intensity, and its increase or decrease. High values overlying low values were interpreted as evidence against leeching and layers with low values as period of no occupation (, p.453). Therefore, Mulvaney concluded that there were “two distinct stratigraphic units, the lower one dating to the late Pleistocene; lying unevenly over this is a more recent unit covering the last 6000 years” (Sjoberg, Bellwood & Hiscock). However, the reasons why there was a considerable gap in the occupation times cannot be answered at this time.

The site of Kenniff cave is extremely important to the prehistory of Australia. It is this site that can shed light on the culture, the tools used and the history of the people who lived here. Further excavations and research will continue to reveal unknown aspects of prehistory Australia.


Bellwood, Peter & Hiscock, Peter (2005) The Human Past – Australia and the Austronesians, Thames & Hudson, London.

Flood, Josephine (1990) Archaeology of the Dreamtime -Story of Prehistoric Australia and her People, HarperCollins, Pymble NSW.

Goud, R. A. (1971) The Archaeologist as Ethnographer: A Case from the Western Desert of Australia, World Archaeology, Taylor & Francis Ltd.

Sjoberg, Alf (1976) Phosphate Analysis of Anthropic Soils, Journal of Field Archaeology, Boston University.