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Keywords:

  • hunting magic;
  • ritual;
  • dugong bones;
  • Torres Strait;
  • ear bones;
  • construction;
  • bone mounds

Abstract

The islands of Western Torres Strait, between Papua New Guinea and Australia, saw the emergence of ritual dugong bone mounds approximately 400 years ago. These mounds were used as a means to commune with, and as an aid for the hunting of, dugongs. This paper explores the bone contents of three dugong bone mounds on the small, uninhabited island of Koey Ngurtai as a means to determine their construction and in doing so to explore the historical emergence of ritual bone mounds associated with dugong hunting magic—and thereby to historicise ethnographically known cultural practices—in Torres Strait. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.