Late Holocene Indigenous Economies of the Tropical Australian Coast: An Archaeological Study of the Darwin Region

12th November 2013

Patricia Bourke

PhD, Department of Archaeology, Northern Territory University, Darwin, January 2001

This thesis presents an archaeological study of Indigenous occupation in the Darwin region during the late Holocene. The research period precedes by some 500 years the European settlement of Palmerston, or Darwin as it is now called, in the country of a group of non-Pama-Nyungan language speakers, the Larrakia. In this thesis I put forward a portrayal of the late Holocene subsistence and settlement patterns of the Indigenous inhabitants of the Darwin region. The research is based on three years of fieldwork, carried out over three dry seasons in 1995, 1996 and 1997, through surveys followed by excavations and reports on the results of test-excavations of eight open archaeological sites.

In this thesis I explore the ways that changes in settlement patterns and resource procurement can be identified in the archaeological record. This is achieved through an investigation of the environmental context and taphonomic processes that shaped the remains left behind by the local people to their present day form. I draw attention to the way that these natural processes impinge on the archaeological record and on interpretation. Since the patterns observed from the archaeological data in this study appear to fit criteria supporting the currently topical hypothesis of Late Holocene intensification, they are compared with other explanations for similar patterns as indices of intensity of occupation. Through analogy with historic and ethnographic information, I explore the question of why people built mounds of shell and why they stopped. I suggest that the answer lies with the intimate, human/environment interaction, played out according to the particular historical cultural behaviour and to perceptions of the cumulative environmental and social changes occurring in the period prior to and following Macassan contact on the north Australian coast.

Bourke, P.
Late Holocene Indigenous Economies of the Tropical Australian Coast: An Archaeological Study of the Darwin Region
Thesis Abstracts
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