Old Boundaries and New Horizons: The Weipa Shell Mounds Reconsidered

By Morrison, Michael | Archaeology in Oceania, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Old Boundaries and New Horizons: The Weipa Shell Mounds Reconsidered


Morrison, Michael, Archaeology in Oceania


Abstract

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.

Background

The first archaeological investigations of the Weipa shell mounds were undertaken by Wright in the 1960s (Wright 1971). He undertook excavations and argued that the mounds occurred because it was "... culturally desirable to dispose of shells in heaps, taking care to keep the area of disposal constricted" (1971:135-36). Perhaps more often associated with the Weipa shell mounds is the work of Bailey (1975, 1977, 1983, 1993a, 1993b, 1994, 1999) who recorded 304 of an estimated 600 mounds believed to occur in the area. As part of his research he also undertook a small excavation on a shell mound at Kwamter (Figure 1), the mound previously excavated by Wright.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Based on Bailey's research it is clear that the mounds are commonly composed of over 90% of the cockle shell, Anadara granosa, a claim that is partially supported by my own recent fieldwork on mound groups on the north Mission River (Morrison 2001. See Figure 1). Mounds have been noted to occur in a variety of locations including within mangrove forests, on exposed sand dunes and beach ridges, but more commonly on the fringes of Eucalyptus tetradonta woodlands and on open samphire plains and saltpans. In terms of their physical nature, the mounds range from as low as 0.20 m in height through to massive, almost monumental ridges of shell several hundred metres long and up to 13 metres high. More commonly mounds are around 2-6 metres in height, and occur as parts of clusters containing up to 15 other mounds.

Bailey has consistently argued that shell mounds were the result of small groups of people exploiting the local environment on a yearly basis during the late wet season (Bailey 1975, 1977, 1983, 1993a, 1994, 1999). He suggested that these groups deposited shell in mounds in order to provide themselves with dry campsites that were above the waterlogged or flooded ground common in coastal areas during the late wet season. He believed that mound distribution was determined by the desire of people to camp as close as possible to the resources they were using. However, it was the way these groups adapted to prevailing environmental conditions that influenced precisely where they would camp.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Old Boundaries and New Horizons: The Weipa Shell Mounds Reconsidered
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.