keilor face keilor lateral

keilor palate keilor superior

(copyright Peter Brown 1984)

The Keilor cranium was discovered by James White in October 1940 while excavating a sand deposit near the junction of the Maribyrnong River and Dry Creek, about 2 km north of Keilor, Victoria (Mahony 1943:3) (Google map,144.8255085,3399m/data=!3m1!1e3). This carbonate encrusted cranium, and the few fragments of femur found near it, were deposited in the Museum of Victoria. Unlike Talgai the geological context of the Keilor skeleton was known and the cranial vault was free of distortion. Preliminary descriptions of the cranium were made by Wunderly (1943), with Adam (1943) describing the teeth and palate.

At the time of its discovery there was active debate in Australia over the origins of the continents first human inhabitants. It was often argued that Australia had been settled by successive waves of culturally and biologically distinct people. The earliest of these waves was represented by living Tasmanian Aborigines, with mainland Aborigines being a mixture of different groups of immigrants (Brown 1996). Wunderly's description of Keilor concluded that it "combined Australoid and Tasmanoid characteristics in about equal proportions" (1943:61). This in turn indicated to him that the Australians had a biracial origin, with the original population being Negritos. The interesting thing about Wunderly's conclusions as to the racial affiliations of Keilor is that they were unsupported by his own analysis. He had been able to identify only one feature, pronounced parietal eminences, which he considered to be particularly Tasmanoid. Apart from Keilor's extreme size all other aspects of its morphology fell within the range of south-eastern Australian mainland Aboriginal crania.

Both Mahony's (1943) claim for extreme antiquity and Wunderly's description of the cranium received considerable criticism (Weidenreich 1945; Wood-Jones 1944; Zeuner 1944). In reality Keilor's morphology fits in well with recent research indicating that the Tasmanians were an extension of the south-eastern mainland population (Macintosh and Barker, 1965; Pietrusewsky, 1984; Pardoe, 1991). In retrospect, given the orthodoxy of the time, Wunderly had little choice but to find Tasmanoid features in Keilor. If Keilor was dated to the Riss-Würm interglacial (Mahony, 1943) then it was inconceivable that Tasmanian features would not be present. In 1971 the late Professor N.W.G. Macintosh obtained radiocarbon dates on secondary carbonates removed from the external surface of the cranial vault and femur fragment, and a bone collagen date for the femur, through the New Zealand Institute of Nuclear Sciences (Brown 1987) . The only measure of absolute age was provided by the bone collagen date of 12,000± 100 (NZ-1327). If the femur and cranium belonged to the same individual, and some support for this is provided by the similar carbonate dates of 6790 ± 50 (NZ-1326) and 6800 ± 100 (NZ-132) respectively, then the cranium appears to be of terminal Pleistocene age.

Following Wunderly (1943), comparisons of Keilor often emphasised its size and robusticity. Weidenreich (1945) considered it the twin of Wadjak 1 (Dubois 1922) which by any standards is a large and strongly built modern human vault (Storm 1995). More recent research has compared Keilor to a range of terminal Pleistocene and recent Australian Aboriginal crania with conflicting results (Brown 1987; Freedman 1986; Habgood 1986; Thorne and Wilson 1977). Thorne and Wilson's (1977) multivariate comparison of Pleistocene and recent Australian crania concluded 'that cranial size in Pleistocene Australians was significantly greater than in Holocene Aboriginals...This trend is observable in the prehistoric crania from Kow Swamp-Cohuna, Mossgiel, Lake Nitchie and Keilor' (1977:401). Perhaps because this conclusion was at odds with some previously held view the results of this research were subsequently ignored or misunderstood by Thorne (1977, 1980). In his later publications Keilor was placed within the modern female range of variation for size and robusticity. Subsequent morphological, univariate and multivariate comparisons (Brown 1987, 1989) again emphasised the relatively great size and robusticity of Keilor.

Although securely dated and reasonably well preserved Keilor has not made the contribution that it might to Australian palaeoanthropology. Most noticeably Keilor, along with Lake Mungo, is excluded from Thorne and Wolpoff's (1980) influential article on evolutionary continuity in the Australasian region. While Keilor is as well dated and of similar age to the Kow Swamp skeletons it does not even gain a passing reference. Thorne and Wolpoff (1980) seem to assume that terminal Pleistocene Australians were a fairly homogenous group and are suitably represented by Kow Swamp and the undated, undescribed, Cohuna. This runs contrary to a series of earlier publications by Thorne (1977) in which he argues the complete opposite. The only reasonable explanation for the exclusion of Keilor is that it's morphology did little to support Thorne and Wolpoff's chosen hypothesis (Brown 1992). Keilor's relatively orthognathic facial skeleton, moderately sized dentition, very curved frontal region, maximum parietal breadth located in a superior position and no bregmatic eminence are at odds with the regional pattern they wish to emphasise. An argument for a regional evolutionary sequence involving Sangiran 17 and Keilor, or Lake Mungo 1, would not have been particularly convincing.

keilor site keilor excavation

During the late 1970's the Keilor site was the centre of an archaeological project conducted by the Victorian Archaeological survey and La Trobe University (Simmons and Ossa 1978). Particular attention was focused on the D clays which contained several layers of quartzite flakes. Dates for the flake bearing horizons range from 36,000 to 45,000 years (Bowler 1976). However, it remains unclear if the flakes are artefacts and are in-situ, rather than reworked deposits. The majority of Australian archaeologists seemed to have dismissed the evidence of human occupation at Keilor earlier than the date provided by the skeletal material.

Recent research

It has not been possible to gain acess to the Keilor cranium since 1985, and it has now been repatriated. The current generation of biological anthropologists, with PhD's post 1985, would also not have been able to examine comparative reference collections large enough to gain a realistic perspective on normal anatomical variation. Therefore, it is not surprising that there have not been any significant insights into the life and times of Keilor in more than 20 years. Just one of the many anthropological footnotes in the story of pre-European Australians.

Data file, access and casts

At the end of this page is a list of metric data for Keilor. Keilor is fairly well preserved, lacking only the temporal segments of both zygomatic arches, a large section of the right side of the basicranium and anterior dentition. Definitions of the measurements are in Brown (1989). Morphological information can be found in Wunderly (1943), Weidenreich (1945) and Brown (1987, 1989).The Keilor cranium was located in the Museum of Victoria, however, it has now been repatriated for reburial. Resin casts of Keilor are sometimes available when I have time to make them.



Adam, W. 1943. The Keilor Fossil Skull: Palate and Upper Dental Arch. Memoirs of the National Museum of Victoria 13:71-77.

Bowler, J. 1976. Recent developments in reconstructing late Quaternary environments in Australia. In R.L. Kirk and A.G. Thorne (eds.) The Origin of the Australians, pp. 55-77. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

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

Brown, P. 1996. Australian origins. In F. Spencer (ed.) History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia, 2 volumes. New York: Garland Publishing. IN PRESS.

Dubois, E. 1922. The proto-Australian fossil man of Wadjak, Java. Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam Series B 23:1013-1051.

Freedman, L. 1986. Human skeletal remains from Mossgiel, New South Wales. Archaeology in Oceania 20:21-31.

Habgood, P. J. 1986. The origin of the Australians: a multivariate approach. Archaeology in Oceania 21:130-137.

Macintosh, N. W. G. and Barker, B. C. W. 1965. The osteology of Aboriginal Man in Tasmania. Oceania Monographs No. 12, Sydney.

Mahony, D. J. 1943. The Keilor skull: geological evidence of antiquity. Memoirs of the National Museum of Victoria 13:79-82.

Pardoe, C. 1991. Isolation and evolution in Tasmania. Current Anthropology 31:1-21.

Pietrusewsky, M. 1984. Metric and non-metric cranial variation in Australian Aboriginal populations compared with populations from the Pacific and Asia. Occasional papers in human biology 3:1-113.

Simmons, S. and Ossa, P.P. 1978. Interim report on the Keilor excavation, May 1978. Records of the Victorian Archaeological Survey 8:63-66.

Storm, P. 1995. The evolutionary significance of the Wajak skulls. Scripta Geologica 110. National Natuurhistorisch Museum: Leiden.

Thorne, A. G. and Wilson, S. R. 1977. Pleistocene and recent Australians: a multivariate comparison. Journal of Human Evolution 6:393-402.

Thorne, A. G. 1977. Separation or reconcilliation? Biological clues to the development of Australian. In J. Allen, J. Golson and R. Jones, Sunda and Sahul, pp. 187-204. Academic Press, London.

Thorne, A. G. 1980. The longest link: human evolution in Southeast Asia and the settlement of Australia. In J. J. Fox, R. C. Garnaut, P. F. McCawley and J. A. C. Mackie, Indonesia: Australian Perspectives, pp. 35-44. Research School of Pacific Studies, A.N.U., Canberra.

Thorne, A. G. and Wolpoff, M. H. 1981. Regional continuity in Australasian Pleistocene hominid evolution. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 55: 337-349.

Weidenreich, F. 1945. The Keilor skull: a Wadjak type from south-east Australia. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 3:225-236.

Wood-Jones, F. 1944. The antiquity of man in Australia. Nature 153:211-212.

Wunderly, J. 1943. The Keilor fossil skull: anatomical description. Memoirs of the National Museum of Victoria 13:57-69.

Zeuner, F. E. 1944. Homo sapiens in Australia contemporary with Homo sapiens in Europe. Nature 153:662-623.

occipital arcoccipital arc
endocranial volume 1497 opisthion-inion 48 orbitalbreadth 42
max bi-parietal 142 opisthion lambda 106 bi-ectoconchion 107
glabella opisthocranion 197 occipital subtense height 32 alveolar length 64
glabella-lambda 189 lambda to occipital subtense 60 alveolar breadth at m2 71
basion-bregma 142 occipital curvature index 30.2 alveolar breadth at canine 49
basion-nasion 109 opisthion asterion 67 frontal arc 127
basion nasospinale 103 opisthion glabella 151 parietal arc 130
basion prosthion 109 basion sphenobasion 24129  
basion-lambda 129 basion-asterion 87 mid-frontal thickness 8.9
basion-inion 85 basion mastoidale 53 pre-bregmatic thickness 8.7
bi-auriculare 133 basion staphylion 47 bregma thickness 9.1
bi-asterion 111 bregma-lambda 119 vertex thickness 7
bi frontosphenoid 108 parietal subtense height 21 lambda thickness 12.8
glabella-bregma 113 bregma to parietal subtense 59 external o-p thickness 17
nasion-bregma 114 parietal curvature index 17.6 parietal angle 141.1
frontal subtense height 24 lambda-inion 74 occipital angle 117.1
frontal curvature index 21.1 lambda-asterion 85 maxillary p2 b-l 10.7
supraorbital breadth 116 nasion nasospinale 51 maxillary ml b-l 13.3
max temp lines frontal 100 nasion prosthion 74 maxillary m2 b-l 13.1
bi-zygomaxilare 96 nasospinale prosthion 24 maxillary m3 b-l 12.8
bi-stephanion 120 nasal breadth 27
bi-stenion 115 orbital height 32