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Life on the Margins

Life on the Margins: An Archaeological Investigation of Late Holocene Economic Variability, Blue Mud Bay, Northern Australia

Patrick Faulkner
Series: Terra Australis
Volume: 38
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Life on the Margins
    Book Description:

    The research presented here is primarily concerned with human-environment interactions on the tropical coast of northern Australia during the late Holocene. Based on the suggestion that significant change can occur within short time-frames as a direct result of interactive processes, the archaeological evidence from the Point Blane Peninsula, Blue Mud Bay, is used to address the issue of how much change and variability occurred in hunter-gatherer economic and social structures during the late Holocene in coastal northeastern Arnhem Land. The suggestion proposed here is that processes of environmental and climatic change resulted in changes in resource distribution and abundance, which in turn affected patterns of settlement and resource exploitation strategies, levels of mobility and, potentially, the size of foraging groups on the coast. The question of human behavioural variability over the last 3000 years in Blue Mud Bay has been addressed by examining issues of scale and resolution in archaeological interpretation, specifically the differential chronological and spatial patterning of shell midden and mound sites on the peninsula in conjunction with variability in molluscan resource exploitation. To this end, the biological and ecological characteristics of the dominant molluscan species is considered in detail, in combination with assessing the potential for human impact through predation. Investigating pre-contact coastal foraging behaviour via the archaeological record provides an opportunity for change to recognised in a number of ways. For example, a differential focus on resources, variations in group size and levels of mobility can all be identified. It has also been shown that human-environment interactions are non-linear or progressive, and that human behaviour during the late Holocene was both flexible and dynamic.

    eISBN: 978-1-925021-10-3
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Abstract
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. List of Tables
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  7. Preface
    (pp. xix-xx)
    Peter Hiscock
  8. 1 The Potential for Change in Late Holocene Economic and Social Systems
    (pp. 1-14)

    It has been suggested that archaeological evidence for significant economic, demographic and technological variation in response to continuing environmental and cultural change implies that recent observations of Aboriginal Australian activities in the contemporary landscape may make poor analogues for the economic strategies that were in place at earlier times (Hiscock 1999: 101; Faulkner 2009). Regardless of the explanatory frameworks used by researchers in coastal northern Australia, be they ecological or socio-cultural in orientation, interpretations of the archaeological record have drawn heavily on ethnographic analogies to directly explain economic and social systems of the late Holocene. This vast area has seen...

  9. 2 The Physical Environment, Landscape Evolution and Resource Availability
    (pp. 15-40)

    It has been widely acknowledged that environmental changes that occurred during the phase of post-glacial amelioration leading into the Holocene were particularly dramatic, and as such affected the long-term structure of the physical environment. Referring to long-term changes within the north Australian landscape, Sullivan (1996: 1) has noted:

    The landscape changes at the end of the Pleistocene involved shifts in the position of the coastline over more than a thousand kilometres, and in the nature of coastal landforms. These landform changes were accompanied by massive changes in climate, and hence vegetation.

    Due to the significant effect that these environmental and...

  10. 3 Spatial and Chronological Patterns of Landscape Use and Resource Exploitation
    (pp. 41-70)

    Based on the broadly known climatic and environmental parameters for northern Australia and the Indo-Pacific region outlined earlier, and the implications these patterns have for variability in human economic behaviour, it is pertinent to examine the distribution, morphology and content of sites from survey data in order to assess human-environmental interactions. Of particular interest is the identification of those environmental factors that can determine the focal points for occupation and use of resources, and how this has been reflected in broad economic patterns across the study area. This analysis is separated into several sections that investigate the chronological and spatial...

  11. 4 The Excavated Shell Midden and Mound Sites on the Point Blane Peninsula
    (pp. 71-108)

    The six sites described here were excavated in order to examine previously identified patterns of resource exploitation at a finer level of detail and chronological resolution. These site descriptions provide initial information on the diverse nature of the archaeological record on the Point Blane Peninsula by outlining site location and environmental context, excavation, stratigraphy, chronology and by presenting an overview and comparison of the recovered cultural material. This analysis is also focussed on examining the issue of possible different site functions between shell middens and mounds, ultimately providing the basis for a more detailed economic analysis.

    For the purposes of...

  12. 5 Variability in Molluscan Species and Habitat Exploitation
    (pp. 109-138)

    A detailed analysis of the molluscan taxa recovered from the six excavated sites provides for an assessment of the intensity of human interaction with the environment, in this case at a finerscale of analysis relative to broader economic patterns. As molluscan remains reflect ecological and environmental changes within the local environment, changes in the distribution and relative abundance of particular species at focal points within the landscape should be reflected in the archaeological record (Faulkner 2011: 137–8). Investigating the relative proportion of mollusc species requires the consideration of a number of different economic and/or environmental processes. For example, taxonomic...

  13. 6 Investigating Variability in the Intensity of Occupation and Resource Use
    (pp. 139-166)

    The previously highlighted analyses of the spatial and temporal patterning in the archaeological record across the Point Blane Peninsula have demonstrated a close relationship between the structure of the economy and those environmental changes noted more broadly across northern Australia and the Indo-Pacific region. Variation in the exploitation of specific resources and habitats indicates that resources were targeted in a highly localised pattern across time and space. Following from this, the question of whether the archaeological record reflects differing site functions and changes in the intensity of both site and resource use requires attention. As such, the following analyses assess...

  14. 7 Reaching the Potential: The Archaeological Evidence for Late Holocene Change and Variability
    (pp. 167-188)

    The primary objective here has been to examine and explain the occurrence of coastal shell middens and mounds on the Point Blane Peninsula within a context of significant, broader environmental change and re-structuring of the regional resource base. Following from this, and given the archaeological evidence for economic reorganisation on the Point Blane Peninsula, this research has also aimed to characterise the nature and variability of this regional coastal economy. In fact, spatial and temporal variability defines human economic activity in this area during the late Holocene. Research conducted in other areas also provides an indication that this level of...

  15. References
    (pp. 189-216)