Coobool Creek

The Coobool Creek skeletons were collected from a site near 'Doherty's Hut' at Coobool Crossing on the Wakool River between Swan Hill and Deniliquin in southern NSW by the late G.M. Black during 1950 (Brown 1981, 1987, 1989) . Unfortunately the precise location of the Coobool Creek cemetery remains unknown, with only a general description in correspondence between G.M. Black and Professor's L. Ray and S. Sunderland at the University of Melbourne. After collection the skeletons were transported to the University of Melbourne, where they formed part of the 'Murray Black' collection in the Department of Anatomy until they were impounded in 1984.

For almost thirty years the Coobool Creek skeletons remained in cabinets in the Anatomy Department, with the only published reference to them made by a perceptive Loring Brace (Brace 1980) . This is surprising as the skeletons were highly mineralised, covered with a thick layer of secondary carbonate and morphologically quite distinct from recent Australian Aboriginal skeletons (Brown 1989) . Certainly the late Professor L. Ray, Head of Department and custodian of the 'Murray Black' collection, was aware that the Coobool Creek material was potentially important but he kept this information to himself. Professor Ray was undoubtedly aware of the research interests of N.W.G. Macintosh, Head of the Department of Anatomy at Sydney University, but Macintosh was apparently only informed of the Nacurrie skeleton. It may be, as Professor Ray told me when close to retirement in 1980, that this was research that he had always intended to do himself.

While collecting information for my Ph.D. thesis in the winter of 1980 I came across the Coobool Creek skeletons while surveying the cabinets containing the 'Murray Black' collection. Morphologically several of the crania appeared similar to the distinctive terminal Pleistocene series recovered from Kow Swamp by Alan Thorne (Thorne 1969, 1976; Thorne and Macumber 1972) . I requested permission to clean and reconstruct the Coobool Creek crania and mandibles for my Ph.D. thesis. While free of distortion, most of the crania were broken and required prolonged treatment in dilute acetic acid baths to remove layers of calcium carbonate.

The reconstructed Coobool Creek crania, mandibles and dentitions are described in Brown (1989). Morphological and metrical comparisons clearly distinguished the Coobool Creek series from mid-Holocene and recent Aboriginal skeletons and linked them with Kow Swamp and Nacurrie. Unfortunately, while there are a series of radiocarbon dates from Kow Swamp (shell and bone apatite) and Nacurrie (AMS on collagen) contamination with a gelatin based preservative applied in 1950 was a problem at Coobool Creek. A piece of the pelvic girdle from CC65 obtained a U/Th date of 14,300 ± 1000 years BP (LLO-416), with a more recent AMS date of 7200 ± 60 years BP (Beta-90029) for acid insoluble residue from the same innominate. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any collagen preserved for a more reliable AMS date. Uranium thorium (234U/230Th) dating of bone is likely to yield problematic results (Brown 1989) and the relationship of the acid insoluble residue to the skeleton remains uncertain. Overall, the best date is provided by morphological comparison with Nacurrie 1 and the contrast with mid-Holocene human skeletal materials from the same region.

In comparison with mid-Holocene (6000-5000 BP) Aboriginal skeletons from the Murray River region the Coobool Creek skeletons are from people who were taller and more robustly built. This greater size extends to significantly greater mean endocranial volumes, thicker cortical and cranial vault bone, larger teeth and more massive oro-facial skeletons (Brown 1989, 1992a, 1992b) . The combined effects of large size and a shared cultural practice (artificial cranial deformation) gives several of the crania from Coobool Creek, Nacurrie and Kow Swamp-Cohuna a visual and statistical appearance which is apparently unique to the central Murray Valley region during the terminal Pleistocene.

The Coobool Creek, Nacurrie and Kow Swamp mandibles combine great corpus height, both at the symphysis and between the first and second molars, with a particularly thickened corpus. The rami are tall and broad with robust, elongated coronoid processes and massive condyles. The masseteric fossae are large and deep, with marked eversion of the angles, especially in males. On the medial surface of the corpus the mylohyoid ridge passes in a low, smooth curve downwards to the submaxillary fossae and inferior border, rather than dropping away abruptly below the mylohyoid line. The maximum dimensions for symphysial height, corpus height, corpus thickness, bigonial breadth and bicondylar breadth exceed the maxima recorded for other Australian samples of any age.

One of the major distinguishing features of the crania from Coobool Creek, Nacurrie and Kow Swamp is their great size. Of the 48 variables in the Coobool Creek and Murray Valley male and female comparisons listed in Brown (1989), 33 have mean values which are significantly greater (p = .05-.000) in the Coobool Creek males and 27 in the Coobool Creek females (Brown 1989:Table 8). Similar results were obtained in comparisons with the male and female crania from Swanport and Broadbeach. Box plots of these data demonstrate the greater size of the Coobool Creek and Kow Swamp crania relative to those from Barham and the recent Australian samples. There was clearly a post-Pleistocene reduction in the overall size of the cranium in the central Murray Valley region prior to the use of the Barham cemetery at 55004500 years BP.

It is from a lateral aspect that several of the crania from Coobool Creek and Kow Swamp appear particularly distinctive. These crania combine marked recession of the frontal squama with great cranial height, a relatively great anterior-posterior curvature of the parietal bones and a flattened occipital bone. These features in association with several others are indicative of artificial deformation. Morphological and statistical comparisons suggest that the area Ieast likely to be influenced by the deformation process is the oro-facial skeleton. Detailed comparisons of temporal and regional variation, involving the Coobool Creek and Kow Swamp crania, should therefore be restricted to this general anatomical region.

The Coobool Creek crania are markedly dolichocephalic, with broadly flaring zygomatic arches creating large temporal fossae. The frontal bones are large, with great supraorbital and postorbital breadths. The glabella region is low and broad, with relatively slight depression at nasion. The zygomatic trigones are often globose and thickened, exceeding the development in the comparative Australian samples.

The facial skeletons are large and robust. The nasal bones are broad and flattened, exhibiting great breadth at the naso-frontal articulation. Absolutely shallow orbits are placed above massive, robust zygomatic bones. The zygomatic bones combine a maximum depth which exceeds the comparative Australian range with prominent malar tuberosities, a thickened inferior border and a column-like frontal process.

Inferiorly the subnasal region is dominated by the large size of the incisor and canine roots. The subnasal area is elongated and prognathic, with a relatively straight alignment of the incisor and canine roots. The canine eminences are extremely prominent. Maximum alveolar breadth in the Coobool Creek palates expands the recorded Australian range. Other features distinguishing the Coobool Creek and Kow Swamp crania include a tendency for maximum cranial breadth to be located towards the cranial base, rather than on the parietal bones. There is great mean thickness in the bones of the cranial vault, although some crania (CC1 and 66) are at the opposite end of the Australian range for this feature. The glenoid fossae are deep with prominent articular eminences.

The Coobool Creek dentitions are distinguished from the comparative recent and other prehistoric Australian samples by their greater mean buccolingual crown dimensions. The mean breadths of the Coobool Creek maxillary lateral incisors, first molars, mandibular canines, first and second premolars and first and second molars are significantly greater than the comparative Australian samples. The most distinctive teeth in the Coobool Creek sample are the large and robust maxillary lateral incisors and the molariform mandibular second premolars. Although there are few teeth preserved from Kow Swamp, the available data supports the Coobool Creek results.

In summary the Coobool Creek and Kow Swamp individuals share a similar morphological pattem in their crania, mandibles and dentitions. This suite of features distinguishes them from recent and other prehistoric skeletal samples from the Murray Valley region.


Availability of Casts and Data

The Coobool Creek skeletons were reburied in 1985 at the request of Aboriginal communities in the Central Murray River region. Casts are unavailable, however, photographs, lateral radiographs and data are archived at the University of New England. A complete craniometric raw data file for Coobool Creek, and other terminal Pleistocene skeletons, is available at the Research Resources section of my home page.


References Cited

Brace, C. L. 1980. Australian tooth-size clines and the death of a stereotype. Current Anthropology 21:141-164.

Brown, P. 1981. Artificial cranial deformation: a component in the variation in Pleistocene Australian Aboriginal crania. Archaeology in Oceania 16:156-167.

Brown, P. 1987. Pleistocene homogeneity and Holocene size reduction: the Australian human skeletal evidence. Archaeology in Oceania 22:41-71.

Brown, P. 1989. Coobool Creek: A morphological and metrical analysis of the crania, mandibles and dentitions of a prehistoric Australian human population. Terra Australis 13. Department of Prehistory, Australian National University, Canberra.

Brown, P. 1992a. Post-Pleistocene change in Australian Aboriginal tooth size: dental reduction or relative expansion? In T. Brown and S. Molnar (eds.) Human craniofacial variation in Pacific Populations, pp. 33-52. Anthropology and Genetics Laboratory, University of Adelaide, Adelaide.

Brown, P. 1992b. Recent human evolution in East Asia and Australasia. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London, Series B 337:235-242.

Thorne, A. G. 1969. Preliminary comments on the Kow Swamp skeleton. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Newsletter 2:6-7.

Thorne, A. G. 1976. Morphological contrasts in Pleistocene Australians. In R. L. Kirk and A. G. Thorne (eds.) The Origin of the Australians, pp. 95-112. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra.

Thorne, A. G. and Macumber, P. G. 1972. Discoveries of Late Pleistocene man at Kow Swamp. Nature 238:316-319.

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