Old boundaries and new horizons: the Weipa shell mounds reconsidered

Morrison, Michael (2003) Old boundaries and new horizons: the Weipa shell mounds reconsidered. Archaeology in Oceania, 38 (1). pp. 1-8.

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This paper develops an alternative interpretation of shell mound phenomena at Albatross Bay, near Weipa on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula. Past researchers have interpreted these distinct mounded middens as functional edifices, constructed to enable small family groups to camp closer to resources during the late wet season. Here I propose that the mounds at Weipa were associated with relatively large groups of people intensively exploiting the shellfish Anadara granosa. This argument is based on a range of factors, including the biological characteristics of Anadara, a species that makes up over 90% of the composition of shell mounds, as well as archaeological and ethnographic evidence.

The shell mounds of the Albatross Bay region, near Weipa on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula, have been the subject of archaeological research for almost 30 years. Past interpretations of these phenomena have been subject to little criticism from archaeologists, and so this paper reviews the dominant arguments for mound formation and use. Based on a review of archaeological and ethnographic data, as well as the biological characteristics of Anadara granosa, a dominant shellfish species found in mounds, it is proposed that the mounds were the result of irregularly held social gatherings. There is strong ethnographic evidence to suggest that pre-contact Aboriginal populations on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula commonly held such gatherings, and that these gatherings made use of particularly abundant resources. In this paper it is proposed that Anadara granosa may have been well suited to exploitation in this manner, given that it is occasionally available in specific locations in extremely large quantities.

Item ID: 13711
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1834-4453
Keywords: archaeology; middens; Queensland; shell mounds; Weipa
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Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2010 04:19
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210199 Archaeology not elsewhere classified @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 100%
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