An investigation of the taphonomic process affecting vertebrate fauna preservation in shell matrix sites at Albatross Bay, Cape York Peninsula, Queensland

Author: Emily Evans

Evans, Emily, 2020 An investigation of the taphonomic process affecting vertebrate fauna preservation in shell matrix sites at Albatross Bay, Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis comprises a taphonomic study of vertebrate faunal remains from three shell mound sites at Prunung (Red Beach), on the shores of Albatross Bay, in Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. Vertebrate fauna are generally agreed to play a major role in food production strategies for Aboriginal groups, yet evidence for this at shell matrix sites across northern Australia is relatively limited. This has led to the argument that vertebrate faunal processing and consumption did not play a major role at shell matrix sites in the region, where shellfish predation and utilisation was a primary focus (Beaton 1985; Bailey 1975a; Faulkner 2013; Harrison 2009; Morrison 2003, 2013a, 2013b, 2015). For this study, vertebrate faunal specimens recovered from the three shell mounds were placed within their local environmental context and analysed microscopically for physical taphonomic characteristics. A taphonomic framework was developed to document the characteristics present on the specimens, including weight and dimensions for each specimen and undertaking a microscopic analysis of the various taphonomic process visible. This was followed by an inter-site comparison of the resulting dataset to determine if any patterns could be discernible. The results of this analysis indicate that the specimens from SM:88, SM:91 and SM:93 show evidence of exposure to a variety of taphonomic processes that are likely to be indicative of processes affecting preservation rates of vertebrate fauna. These stem from the shell mound itself and the climactic impacts of the localised environment. The identification of many large mammals at the sites suggests bigger game may have been consumed. Based on this information, it is possible that vertebrate fauna played a greater role in food production strategies around shell matrix sites than has previously been suggested. While further research is required, this study shows that understanding these taphonomic processes can positively supplement current interpretations of shell mound phenomena and add to narratives about the lifeways of coastal Aboriginal peoples being revealed through archaeological research

Keywords: Taphonomy, Vertebrate fauna, shell middens, shell mounds, Cape York, Australian Archaeology, Aboriginal Australia, North Queensland Archaeology, food production strategies

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2020
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr. Mick Morrison