Coastal Themes: An archaeology of the southern Curtis Coast, Queensland
Sean Ulm 2006
ANU E Press, The Australian National University, Canberra (Terra Australis 24), xxvii+314pp, ISBN 1920942939
Coastal Themes is a detailed account of archaeological research undertaken on the southern Curtis Coast at the northern end of the southeast Queensland bio-region over 400 kilometres north of Brisbane. The study area extends 70 kilometres north-west of Bundaberg to 20 kilometres south-east of Gladstone and covers about 1200 square kilometres, with a high water shoreline length of over 500 kilometres. The research had its origins in 1993 as part of an interdisciplinary project entitled the Gooreng Gooreng Cultural Heritage Project, which was initiated by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit at The University of Queensland; however, Coastal Themes is substantially Sean Ulm's independent doctoral research (completed in 2004), which focuses on the coast. The report includes 314 pages, 179 figures (including photographs), 85 tables and five appendices, and the reader will find in the bibliography more than 30 reports, theses and papers linked to the research.
The monograph covers several methodological and theoretical issues. The methodological issues are least controversial and are dealt with first in this review. In Chapter 3 Ulm sets out in detail his approaches to excavation and analysis of the material from the eight sites excavated. Ulm sets rigorous standards. In Chapter 4 he investigates local variations in the marine reservoir effect and how this impacts the determination of marine and estuarine archaeological shell dates. Ulm was able to determine that the marine reservoir effect for north-east Australia was erroneously calculated and was able to suggest a minor revision to Reimer and Reimer's (2000) recommended value for north-east Australia (p.64). In Chapter 5 Ulm develops a simple but effective method for assessing site integrity; extending earlier work on stone artefacts, he uses conjoin analysis on Anadara trapezia (mud ark or Sydney cockle) to identify valve-pairs among unarticulated A. trapezia and hence indicators of site integrity. In Chapters 6 to 13 he provides comprehensive accounts of the location, environment, history of discovery, excavation and analysis of the mounded middens, linear middens and a quarry/midden that comprise the study. Each is a thorough and complete analysis and utilises the marine reservoir corrections and conjoin analysis developed in Chapters 4 and 5.
Methodological precision does, however, bring with it the need to compromise on scale of excavation and time spent on analysis. For example, for the first site reported in Chapter 6 (Seven Mile Creek Mound), Ulm excavated only a single one-square-metre pit and subsequent analysis focused on a single half-metre-sided square (p.81). The site is estimated at 200 square metres (Table 14.5, p.238). For the large site complex of Eurimbula Site I (Chapter 12), nine half-metre-sided pits were excavated. The area of this site is estimated to be 100 000 square metres. These small samples must be of concern in developing fine-grained local and regional patterns in the archaeological record. …