Thesis abstract ‘Sea Change? Marxism, Ecological Theory and the Weipa Shell Mounds’

13th November 2013

Michael Morrison

BA(Hons), School of Anthropology, Archaeology and Sociology, James Cook University, Townsville, 2000

This thesis considers whether the models Geoff Bailey developed to explain the formation and use of the Weipa shell mounds (Bailey 1977, 1993, 1994, 1999) are sufficient. In assessing this, theoretical debates, as well as archaeological, environmental, and ethnographic data is reviewed and discussed.

Bailey’s models were based on an ecological theoretical framework, however in this thesis a Marxist-oriented cultural landscapes approach is advocated. Based on this perspective it is argued that a cultural ecological framework, and thus Bailey’s models, are flawed. The widespread popularity of ecological approaches in north Australian shell mound studies is also noted.

Archaeological and environmental data are reviewed, and in both cases it is argued that more detailed work is required. Following this a general ethnographic model is developed based on a review of extensive anthropological and ethnographic data from the central west coast of Cape York Peninsula These data provide insights into the operation of past social systems, and highlights the fact that a cultural landscapes perspective is crucial to an understanding of human-environment relationships.

Overall it is demonstrated that the current models for mound formation and use at Weipa are insufficient largely because the theoretical approach on which they are based is flawed and their use of ethnographic data is highly selective and simplistic. This paves the way for the development of several alternative scenarios for mound formation and use at Weipa.


Bailey, G.N. 1977 Shell mounds, shell middens and raised beaches in the Cape York Peninsula. Mankind 11(2):132–143.

Bailey, G.N. 1993 Shell mounds in 1972 and 1992: Reflections on recent controversies at Ballina and Weipa. Australian Archaeology 37:1–17.

Bailey, G.N. 1994 The Weipa shell mounds: Natural or cultural? In M. Sullivan, S. Brockwell and A. Webb (eds), Archaeology in the North: Proceedings of the 1993 Australian Archaeological Association Conference, pp.107–129 Darwin: North Australia Research Unit, The Australian National University.

Bailey, G.N. 1999 Shell mounds and coastal archaeology in northern Queensland. In J. Hall and I. McNiven (eds), Australian Coastal Archaeology, pp.105–112. Canberra: The Australian National University.

Morrison, M.
Thesis abstract 'Sea Change? Marxism, Ecological Theory and the Weipa Shell Mounds'
Thesis Abstracts
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