Niche production strategies and shell matrix site variability at Albatross Bay, Cape York Peninsula

Authors


Correspondence: Michael Morrison, Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia. Email: mick.morrison@flinders.edu.au

Abstract

Albatross Bay, near Weipa on western Cape York Peninsula, is well known for the large number of anthropogenic late Holocene shell mound sites that occur in the region. Recent research on shell mound formation and use both here and elsewhere across northern Australia has focused upon the extent to which mound formation may have been tied to intensive use of periodically available gluts of the intertidal bivalve Anadara granosa. This paper explores whether such a model applies in the Albatross Bay region, drawing on data available from 477 shell matrix sites recorded in this region. Data on site size, morphology, composition, substrate type, proximity to contemporary shorelines and shell mound chronology support a model of Aboriginal people episodically and strategically targeting a highly variable niche estuarine resource base rather than intensively focusing on one species. It is proposed that these production strategies were characterised by a high degree of flexibility in terms of resource focus, at times involving a considerable emphasis on A. granosa, but also incorporating other estuarine resources, and that the level or intensity of production was able to be scaled up or down in line with resource availability and abundance. This production system was based upon nuanced knowledge of annual and intra-annual ecosystem dynamics along with social organisation and communication networks that facilitated a high degree of flexibility around the strategic exploitation of variable estuarine resource bases.

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