An Analysis of Lithics at Calperum Station, South Australia, to Examine the Function of Late Holocene Mound Sites along the Lower Murray River

Author: Joanne Thredgold

Thredgold, Joanne, 2017 An Analysis of Lithics at Calperum Station, South Australia, to Examine the Function of Late Holocene Mound Sites along the Lower Murray River, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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Anthropogenic earth mounds are a common site type in the Murray-Darling Basin. They have been the subject of extensive research in New South Wales and Victoria, but mound development and use in South Australia is less well understood. Based on regional surveys, it has been suggested that the earth mounds in the Riverland district of South Australia differ from many of the earth mounds in other parts of the basin in that different kinds of sites were related to different landform settings, and that activities were spatially segregated in this landscape.

In order to identify the kinds of activities that were taking place at the mounds, 195 stone artefacts from the surface of 14 mounds, their immediate vicinities and their broader context were recorded at Calperum Station. The assemblage was dominated by unmodified flakes and uniform knapping strategies with low levels of inter- and intrasite variability in the numbers of artefacts on the mounds, the raw materials used, and the size and form of artefacts. These findings support the proposition that the mounds were functionally specific loci of food and fibre processing activities, such as large animals and Typha spp. roots.

Large amounts of heat-shattered stone were also encountered in the study area, suggesting the use of both clay and stone heat retainers in the mounds or associated hearths. The results were overall consistent in many ways with results from other earth mound studies from the Murray-Darling Basin, particularly in regard to the scarcity of raw materials, the consistent use of small cores, flakes and tools, and the use of bipolar reduction strategies. The taphonomic processes active in the vicinity of the mounds suggest that potentially a large portion of the surface assemblage is likely to have been lost to the subsurface due to trampling and flooding events, particularly smaller artefacts. Further research is required to establish regional baseline assemblage variability and the extent of local taphonomic processes.

By focussing on the relationship between earth mounds and the associated stone artefacts, this study contributes to the archaeological understanding of inland riverine mound sites and the associated past hunter-gatherer behaviour in South Australia, Australia and globally by testing and extending the information available about mounds in the Riverland district of South Australia, comparing the results of this study to mound studies from riverine districts of southeastern Australia, and making explicit the relationship between stone artefacts and mounds at Calperum. Earth oven mounds are an international phenomenon that proliferated in the late Holocene, and this thesis extends the information about how stone artefacts and mounds intersect with each other, and how these activities are performed within the context of local subsistence patterns.

Keywords: Murray River, Murray Basin, South Australia, earth oven, mound, lithics, stone tools, stone artefacts, Late Holocene, taphonomy, floodplain, archaeology, food processing, semi-arid environments

Subject: Archaeology thesis, Humanities thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2017
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Amy Roberts