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Devil's Lair is a single-chamber cave with a floor area of around 200 square metres that formed in a Quaternary dune limestone of the Leeuwin–Naturaliste Ridge, 5 kilometres from the modern coastline of Western Australia. The stratigraphic sequence in the cavefloor deposit consists of 660 centimeters of sandy sediments, with more than 100 distinct layers, intercalated with flowstone and other indurated deposits. Excavations have been made in several areas of the cave floor. Since 1973, excavations have been concentrated in the middle (approximately on a north-west, south-east axis) of the cave, where 10 trenches have been dug. Archaeological evidence for intermittent human occupation extends down to layer 30 (about 350 cm), with hearths, bone, and stone artifacts found throughout.
Devil's Lair has been the subject of scientific research since the 1970s by palaeontologists and archaeologists. Excavations have recovered stone artefacts, numerous animal bone remains, hearths, bone artefacts and human skeletal remains. Preservation of cultural materials has been very good and a long, well dated cultural sequence has been documented. The diversity and productiveness of the evidence from Devil's Lair make it unusually valuable as a source of information on cultural and natural history in the extreme southwest of Australia since the first colonisation of the continent.
Devil's Lair is important as one of the earliest sites of human occupation in Australia, a site with very early human ornaments and an unusually rich source of information for prehistoric cultural and natural history in the southwest of Western Australia.
Several different techniques of dating have been used at Devil's Lair to show that human occupation began at around 48,000 years BP (Turney, et al. 2001). This makes it amongst the earliest sites in Australia and so an important source of information about the timing and character of the first human colonizers of Australia. Located in the south-west of Western Australia, Devil's Lair shows that people reached the extreme southwest of the continent very soon after their first arrival.
Excavations at Devil's Lair have yielded early human ornaments in the form of three ground bone beads dating to 19,000–12,700 years BP. These beads were made from the limb-bones of macropods and were manufactured by cutting the bone shafts into short segments and grinding them smooth on abrasive stone. A deliberately perforated but otherwise unmodified stone object with wear patterns suggestive of its use as a pendant dated to 14,000 year BP has also been recovered from Devil's Lair.
These artifacts are some of the earliest evidence of symbolic behavior in Australia and are internationally significant for understanding the timing and character of the emergence of symbolic capacities in humans.
- Balme, J., D. Merrilees and J. K. Porter (1978). "Late Quaternary mammal remains spanning about 30,000 years from excavations in Devil's Lair, Western Australia". Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 60 (2):33-65.
- Bednarik, R. (1997). "Pleistocene stone pendant from Western Australia". Australian Archaeology 45:32-34.
- Dortch, C. (1979). "Devil's Lair, an Example of Prolonged Cave Use in South-Western Australia". World Archaeology 10(3):258-279.
- Turney, C. S. M., M. I. Bird, L. K. Fifield, R. G. Roberts, M. Smith, C. E. Dortch, R. Grun, E. Lawson, L. K. Ayliffe, G. H. Miller, J. Dortch and R.G. Cresswell (2001). "Early Human Occupation at Devil's Lair, Southwestern Australia 50,000 Years Ago". Quaternary Research 55 (1): 3–13. doi:10.1006/qres.2000.2195.