Late Holocene Aboriginal shellfish production strategies in northern Australia: Insights from Prunung (Red Beach), Weipa, Cape York Peninsula




Recent investigations into the role of shell mounds in late Holocene Aboriginal economies in northern Australia have focussed on one of the key constituents in mound sites: the intertidal bivalve, Tegillarca granosa (formerly Anadara granosa). Various researchers have suggested that shell mounds were constructed during production activities that were predominantly oriented towards exploitation of estuarine or marine ecosystems, with other resources being of secondary or supplementary importance during these times. Proponents of this model concede that it requires ongoing evaluation in relation to new quantitative data on mound composition, stratigraphy and chronology from shell mound sites across a range of different environmental contexts. At Weipa, in western Cape York Peninsula, recent research has been oriented toward collecting new data necessary for investigating the role of mound sites and the production strategies associated with their formation. In this paper, the results of excavations and analysis of a series of shell mounds at Prunung (Red Beach), to the north of Weipa, are presented. These results support the view that mound construction took place in the context of production activities strategically oriented towards intertidal flats, rather than broadly-based foraging within local site catchments, or a more generalised ‘estuarine’ orientation.