AR71. 18 July 2003
Unpublished. Edited for grammar and format.


Report, Koonalda Expedition, January 1975


Alexander Gallus


Dr. W. Grant Inglis
Director of Environment and Conservation
Department of Environment and Conservation.


Report, Koonalda Expedition January 1975.

The expedition to Koonalda in January 1975 was successful and I was able to realize my aims.

1.      I have completed my stratigraphic studies. The stratigraphy of the main Trench III has been fully recorded, together with extension No. 2. I am now able to publish the succession of industries down to levels 8/9. This lowest area has yielded a Carbon 14 date of 29,400 + 11,600 B.P. ‘Indicated Age’ ANU-1201.

2.      The investigation of the important workshop floor in extension to Trench III, No. 2 has been completed too. A substantial amount of charcoal has been collected. A previous collection of charcoal, which was collected from the same level, was accidentally spoiled at the ANU Radiocarbon Laboratory and an analysis of additional samples has been promised. Some more charcoal from levels 8/9 has also been collected.

3.      It can be stated in anticipation of the results of an analysis of the stone industries present in the cave, which I have already begun, that at least two different stone tool traditions can be discerned, which do not simply follow each other in the Stratigraphy, but alternate in the sequence.

I have already pointed out that the simplistic view, according to which only one continent-wide prehistoric ‘culture’ existed in Australia, and which is presently still widely held by archaeologists, cannot be maintained. The two main industries in Koonalda Cave are different from each other, must have different roots and embody different traditions. As the two types of industries alternate with each other during the stratigraphic sequence, it must be concluded that these industries had different regional extensions and that during the last 40,000 years of the existence of human activity in the cave, the cave was occupied by different people (tribes or groups). This means that the cave was alternately excluded from or incorporated into the tribal territory of these different human groups. The morphology of these two industries matches the already well known dichotomy of physical types as revealed by the Kow Swamp excavation. One industry is definitely of the Homo sapiens character (‘Aurignacian-like’), whereas the other industry is much more primordial and shows earlier technologic practices.

1.      I must emphasize that the end, better to say the beginning of the stratigraphy of the cave is not yet known, and older human occupation levels are to be expected under the already known floors 8/9. The excavation nevertheless cannot be followed deeper until precautions are made to fortify the walls of the trench, as the trench is already ca. 10 meters deep. There is about 1½ meters left before the present ground water level is reached, and at this level a slipping of the trench walls under pressure might be possible. I find that the ‘incredibility gap’ between my estimates of the age of the presence of man in Australia and the newest views of professional academics has substantially narrowed down, as a possible time-level for the ‘arrival’ of man in Australia has recently been again extended to about 70,000 before present.

This means that a more laborious attempt to reach the depth of Koonalda Cave and the depth of its human occupation would no more encounter scientific resistance and would not be called ‘controversial.’

2.      One of the main aims of the expedition was to record the so called ‘megalithic’ area, with the standing stele. This was done with the help of Mr. Joseph Szabó, a Hungarian artist, who drew the whole area to scale. A final clearing of the area restored the human floor on which the stele stands, which can be dated at around 14,000 B.P. This made it possible to define the character and the aim of human activity which took place there, and to solve, as far as archaeology and the interpretation of finds can go, the problem of the context within which the erection of the stele makes sense.

A. Mining

The stele has been erected at the base of a large rockfall, which actually consists of several rockfalls, and which all occurred in the same area, now leaving a high dome in the ceiling of the cave.

This hill contains chalcedony nodules. The chalcedony has been mined, all around the periphery of the hill and also on its top. Mining was done with the aid of trenches and mining holes.

B. Mining Ritual

The ‘mana’ character of the mined area and of the cave-surrounding is clearly evident from the following observations, which have been recorded by detailed sketches and abundant photographic documentation.

The observations point to religious (psychologically determined) anxieties derived from a mythic-cognitive experience of the cave environment and which had to be allayed with ritualistic, propitiatory, and apotropaeie behavior.

The singularly lifelike, organic looking, white, smooth cortex surfaces and swelling forms of the large chalcedony nodules, which appear in the midst of the rockfalls, evoke even in the modern observer associations with living matter and an atmosphere of femininity. The more susceptible must have been prehistoric man, who found himself in a strange environment and uncanny darkness, in the deep cave full of unknown dangers. There must have been feelings of in security, transgression, and violation during his mining activity. An environment had to be recreated within the cave which seemed secure and protected and where he could set up his workshops. Traces of his precautions and cares are clearly apparent.

a.       The whole area in front of the rockfall, around the erected stele, appears swept clean, with no mining refuse apparent. Outside this area breakages of workshop activity appear.

b.      Only such chalcedony blocks have been broken down or hammered or have been formed into quadrangular nuclei (simple quadrangular blocks) which show minimum articulation of their surface, thus do not suggest organic form. The rest, which show forcefully the above mentioned lifelike associations and appearance, have been kept and carefully placed. The erect stele, which stands in the area in front of the rockfall, has already been published. In cleaning the original surface, a second stele buried in the soil beside it has been found.

c.       All mining holes and trenches have been carefully filled in again, and all mining refuse has been placed back into the excavated hole when filling it in. (That is why there is no mining refuse in the area.)

The mining tools, which have been used, or perhaps some token mining tools (as some of them look mint), have been placed into the mining cavities during the process of infilling. The tools were either laid flat into the packing, horizontally, or they stand perpendicularly on their edge (large axes, pickaxes, ‘scoops’ or ‘shovels,’ choppers). In the top filling of one long mining trench (not yet excavated), large, heavy picks were found, deposited perpendicularly into the top filling of the trench. They have not been removed by us, but photographed and position noted.

Large chalcedony nodules, with articulated, ‘organic’ surfaces (as described above), have been spared and preserved and variously placed: laid flat over the edges, or over top of the excavated area, or else standing erect at the back of the mining hole. Several filled-in trenches were located by the expedition, but not excavated, so that the placement and the technique of filling in may be studied by independent observers. In those excavated, care was taken so that technical details of the construction of the infilling can still be observed.

Especially one mining hole behind the erect stele, which has been dug into the foot of the rockfall, shows suspicious constructional activity. Large blocks have been used to form a wall, and the hole which otherwise could not have been filled, was filled out with stone cobbles and mining refuse. Near the base of the mining, the mining tools were placed.

The first appearance of this wall, during the second last expedition, prompted me to call the construction, ‘megalithic.’ But the term ‘megalithic’ can no more be used and has to be dropped because of its connotation with funeral practices and rituals in the Neolithic. The said wall is very short and masks only the mining hole, which has been cut into the ascending slope of the rockfall. It continues the surface of a big, fallen, limestone rock, both forming a backdrop to the large erect stele in the forefront. They form a termination, with abrupt ascent, of the smooth surfaces in front of the hill on which the large stele has been placed.

This smooth surface is based on a layer of travertine, which was formed under standing water, and it is likely that the whole area stood at the edge of a small lake.

After excavation of the mining hole, I have again replaced these blocks according to plan drawings so that the backdrop-construction still appears in its original arrangement.

The inference cannot be avoided that the practicality, function, and reason for these arrangements and ritualistic placements must lie on a spiritual plane. In a forthcoming paper, I have called the placements of chalcedony nodules ‘protosculpture.’ I meant by this term that the strange forms evoked archetypal (mythic) associations, which then were projected back to the objects themselves. The objects became externalized symbols of ‘mana,’ or ‘spirit,’ or whatever spiritual presence was felt to be reigning in the cave.

C. Workshops

Beside the mining area, towards and extending near to the wall of the cave, there was a large workshop, with widely spread remnants of workshop activity (not mining activity). The workshop was spread around three big nuclei at its center. This workshop was fully recorded and collected during a previous excavation. It stratigraphic relation to the floor on which the stele stands is fully known. It is somewhat later. Several continuous phases of human activity around the hill have been sorted out and recorded. Mining and ritual activity have continued here, down to the abandonment of the cave.

The presence of the workshop and its uncollected refuse proves that chalcedony blocks selected for tool making were no more regarded as numinous and did no more need any preservational or propiciatory rituals. They were already so to say ‘decontaminated’ and the workshop remains could remain uncared for in the workshop area. This points to the level of security, already mentioned, which had to be attained in order to be active in the cave and which has been secured by means of the above mentioned precautions and ritualistic behavior.

D. Importance of the Area

I can safely risk my credibility in stating that the whole rockfall or hill still contains extremely important information on the spiritual atmosphere surrounding the mining activity in the cave. This information is unique in the prehistory of the Upper Paleolithic and matches the significance of the cave sanctuaries of a similar age in Europe.

Only a small part of the available area has as yet been excavated.

There is further up the hill, a fallen, large slab of limestone which has overturned two, formerly standing stele. They are visible under the block. One stele has lost its ‘head,’ but this was recovered lower down during the excavation and has been restored to its original position.

Behind this arrangement, a large and long mining trench takes its origin and cuts across the top of the hill. The trench is still filled in as left behind by the miners, and we did not touch it; only photographs were taken. The trench ends against large fallen blocks of limestone at the center of the rockfall.

This time the expedition enjoyed the services of a skilled photographer so that many details mentioned in this report appear documented including stages during excavation.

E. The ‘Sanctuary’ in the NW Passage

I have already reported that during the second last expedition extensive line-carvings have been found on the smooth surfaces of limestone blocks in the NW Passage, between the walls bedecked with finger tracings and line-carvings. This new complex appears to be younger than the markings on the wall.

This time a short investigation revealed that the soft limestone powder filling the interwalls between the rocks extends to a certain depth and shows stratification. Carbon 14 dates are available for the surface in this passage of the cave. It appears that the surface is extremely old, and no other change occurred since then except only some sparse crumbling of the ceiling in the form of small limestone rubble (18,200 ± 300 B.P. ANU-1205). There are extensive patches of charcoal, remnants of wooden torches, and depositions of animal skulls and skeletal parts on the surface, mainly at the foot of the boulders, with carvings.

Our investigation was extremely limited, so it cannot be said whether on the deeper surfaces the same features might be encountered. Stone tools or chips are not found on the surface and were not encountered deeper either. The limestone powder is sterile, but intermittently thin bands of charcoal and decayed wood appear. The impression is that from time to time intensive visits to the area occurred with remnants of torches, ash, and charcoal particles littering the floor.

It should be observed that human activity in this passage has already ceased for two millennia, when the mining activity particularly described under A-D was carried out. (NB: Mining in the cave is observable right down to the oldest level reached. First sure signs of votive placements of mining tools appear over level 6.)

Future Plans

I have had discussions with functionaries of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, who have encouraged me to ask for an Institute Fellowship so that I can order full time the material of past excavations for storage in the Adelaide Museum and for publication. I have also received from Dr. Ling a notice that the Museum Board has invited me to accept the position of a Visiting Research Worker with all the facilities this involves.

I am at last in the position to decide that I shall ask for the Fellowship for the middle of the year 1976 if I can get two years and for January 1977 if the grant would be only for one year.

As I have already reported, one of the members of the second-last expedition, Christine Sharpe, is pursuing an advanced course in Anthropology at Princeton University, U.S.A. and is using her documentation of the Koonalda rock-tracings and carvings for a thesis. I have encouraged her to ask for American money for further documentary work and analysis of this subject. She has informed me that she intends to obtain a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. In case she does obtain a grant, I ask in her name for permission to do further photographic work in the cave at a time during my Fellowship, when I can also be present. Such further documentary covering would be extremely desirable, especially as the fine carvings on the limestone boulders are so fine and weathered that some details are only detectable with special lighting of the surfaces and require the use of adequate photographic techniques, which were unavailable at the time these carvings were discovered.

Sincerely Yours
Dr. Alexander Gallus
2 Patterson Street
Nunawading, Vic. 3131