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Variability in Western Arnhem Land shell midden deposits

Mowat, Fiona (1995). Variability in Western Arnhem Land shell midden deposits. Master Thesis, Northern Territory University.

Document type: Thesis
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Author Mowat, Fiona
Title Variability in Western Arnhem Land shell midden deposits
Institution Northern Territory University
Publication Date 1995
Thesis Type Master
Subjects 2199 - Other History and Archaeology
Abstract This thesis addresses variability in shell middens deposited during the Mid to Late Holocene in western Arnhem Land, Australia. Throughout this time, the inhabitants of western Arnhem Land exploited a wide variety of marine resources. Evidence of exploitation of marine and estuarine molluscs can be found in the form of shell middens deposited throughout the landscape, on the coastal strip and estuarine plains further south and in rockshelters situated in outliers of the escarpment.

I aim to test existing models which classified middens into a few inflexible types, and which identified simple chronological changes. The integrity of these models is examined by a review of the data used to construct them, and by testing against them previously unrecorded midden sites.

Some authors have identified chronological changes in the relative abundance of species in middens, notably Cerithidea obtusa. and in the location in which middens were deposited. Models of simple unidirectional change in relative abundance of Cerithidea across a broad geographic area are not supported. Rockshelters were not all abandoned in favour of coastal plains at 3000 BP. Conversely, the coastal plains were not only used after 3000 BP.

Midden variability has not been acknowledged by previous researchers. Models regarding middens have typically characterised these sites as being homogeneous. The present study has revealed a wide variety of species abundance, antiquity, environmental context, species richness, size and form of midden sites in western Arnhem Land.

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