Living in rainforest: the prehistoric occupation of North Queensland's humid tropics

Horsfall, N. (1987) Living in rainforest: the prehistoric occupation of North Queensland's humid tropics. PhD thesis, James Cook University of North Queensland.

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This thesis presents the results of an exploratory investigation into the prehistoric occupation of the tropical rainforests of northeast Queensland. The limited ethnographic data available for this region describes how the Aboriginal societies who lived in these rainforests exploited their environment. A major feature of this exploitation was the intensive use of several species of toxic plants (many of them restricted to this district) as food staples. These plants were rendered edible by a complex process of treatment which included leaching in running water. Similar processes have been used to treat toxic food plants in many regions of the world, and their use may have a considerable antiquity.

Although preservation of archaeological remains is not optimal in these humid tropics, numerous sites have been recorded, and excavations were undertaken at several of these. The oldest cultural deposits found so far are at Jiyer Cave (from 5100 BP), and an open site (Mulgrave River 2) was first occupied at about 2700 BP. Both of these sites contained remains of toxic and non-toxic food plants. Similar food plant remains were also recovered from other sites investigated by the author.

The link between these archaeological remains of toxic food plants and intensive Aboriginal exploitation of the rainforests is not clear. This is due partly to the poor preservation of organic material in the older deposits particularly, and partly to inter-site variations. At Jiyer Cave, plant remains clearly identified as belonging to toxic species are no more than about 1000 years old, while non-toxic and unidentified species are as much as 4000 years old. Stone artefacts possibly associated with the processing of toxic species occur throughout these deposits, though specialised processing tools appear to be less than 1000 years old. At Mulgrave River 2, toxic food plant species occur in deposits dated to about 2000 BP, although they are more prevalent in the most recent levels. However, stone artefacts which might be associated with complex treatment procedures are rare at this site.

The deposition rates of quartz artefacts are taken as possible indicators of intensity of site use. At Jiyer Cave, an increase of occupation is thus postulated for about 650 to 850 BP, whereas at Mulgrave River 2 the deposition of quartz artefacts peaks between 1800 and 1000 BP. In other words, there is no direct correlation between increased use of the sites and the presence of toxic plant remains, nor is there any correspondence between depositional histories of the two sites.

Areas which still need investigation or which have arisen as a result of this research are noted, and a number of suggestions for future research are made.

Item ID: 27492
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Babinda; Bramston Beach; Jiyer Cave; Mount Bartle Frere; Mulgrave River; Russell River; Yidinjdji trail; rainforest Aborigines; rock shelters; shell middens; Aboriginal food; edible plants; poisonous plants; stone tools; prehistoric technology; rain-forest; tropical North Queensland; archaeology; archaeological sites; artifacts
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Appendix A: Horsfall, Nicky (1984) Theorising about northeast Queensland prehistory. Queensland Archaeological Research, 1 . pp. 164-172.

Appendix B: Horsfall, Nicky (1983) Excavations at Jiyer Cave, northeast Queensland: some results. In: Archaeology at ANZAAS 1983. Western Australian Museum, Perth, WA, Australia, pp. 172-178.

Appendix C: Horsfall, Nicky (1984) The prehistoric occupation of Australian rainforests. Australian National Rainforests Study Report: proceedings of a workshop on the past, present and future of Australian rainforests. [World Wildlife Fund (Australia) Project 44] , December 1983, Griffith University , pp. 524-528.

Date Deposited: 06 Jun 2013 02:59
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Archaeology @ 50%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History @ 50%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology @ 50%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 50%
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