Cuddie Springs Archaeological Site, New South Wales
The rare evidence of co-existence of mega fauna and people in Australian prehistory
Cuddie Springs is an important archaeological and paleontological site, located near Brewarrina in central north New South Wales. About 40 km south of the Barwon River and 15 km west of the Macquarie River it forms a shallow enclosed basin (3 km diameter), away from the natural drainage. The site is in the middle of an ancient lake that irregularly contained water. After heavy rains, the only source of water, the lake may take months to dry again. During arid glacial periods this water attracted animals and also helped in preserving bones that accumulated there. In contrast to the red-soil plains surrounding the lake, its deposit consists of gray soil developed in stagnant water. In an area of about 200 metres diameter, at the lowest centre of the lake, animal bones and stone artefacts have accumulated.
In 1876 the Yeomans family, who owned the property, constructed an 8 metre deep well. During the digging of the well they recovered the bones of some large prehistoric animals. William B Clarke, the father of Australian geology, examined these bones and sent some to Sir Richard Owen, a distinguished geologist at the British Museum in London. Subsequently Dr Charles Anderson from the Australian Museum, with his assistants, conducted scientific excavation at Cuddie Springs in 1933. Between 1991 and 2009 Dr Judith Field from the University of Sydney, with her team and some support of the Australian Museum, excavated the site during several field seasons. She applied the most up to date archaeological and analytical methods that allowed her to understand how the site was formed and the nature of the coexistence of humans with large, now extinct, prehistoric animals.
Research suggests that in arid periods, animals were attracted to the shrinking pool of water in the lake’s centre, where they died by drowning or other causes and their bodies were soon embedded in sediments. The excavation of over 3 metres deep, cut through sediments, reaching to the period before humans appeared in Australia about 50,000 - 60,000 years ago. Layers in the middle, dated to 30,000 – 36,000 years ago, include the bones of large, now extinct animals, other animals that are still alive, as well as stone artefacts. The site is the only one in Australia that contains such clear and complex evidence of the coexistence of mega fauna with humans.
More about Dr Judith Field:
Charles Anderson & Harold Fletcher: The Cuddie Springs bone bed. The Australian
Museum Magazine 5 (1934) 152–158.
Melanie Fillios, Judith Field & Charles Bethan: Investigating human and megafauna co-occurrence in Australian prehistory: Mode and causality in fossil accumulations at Cuddie Springs. Quaternary International 211 (2010) 123–143
Dr Stan Florek , Collection Officer