Frontier mystery: An unusual mound of kopi mourning caps on the eastern edge of the Simpson Desert

Giles Hamm, Don Rowlands, Mike Smith


On the eastern edge of the Simpson dune field, an unusual find of 40–60 mourning caps in a single cluster, prompts us to raise issues about its interpretation. This region is known for violence along the colonial frontier, and this kopi site is only one to two days walk from the site of a known massacre of a ceremonial gathering of people at Kaliduwarry waterhole in about 1878. There is no direct evidence showing that this site coincides with colonial expansion in this region in the late 1870s, but the condition of these caps and their geomorphic context indicate that this site cannot be older than a few hundred years. If it dates to the pre-contact period in the 1800s, this kopi site must reflect a higher degree of social ranking and complexity than is usually assumed in the ethnography. Whether or not this remarkable site relates to the death of a single, high-ranked individual or multiple deaths on the colonial frontier in a single event, this cluster of mourning caps indicates that 40–60 people were in mourning simultaneously.

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ISSN 1839-339X (online) ISSN 0814-3021 (print)