Part Past, Part Fiction: Being a Contribution to Mesolithic Shell Midden Research in Denmark Using Information from Aboriginal Australia

01st December 2006

Paul Irish

MA, Institute for Archaeology and Ethnology, University of Copenhagen, July 1999

Research into shell midden sites of the Danish late Mesolithic (5400 BC to 3900 BC) over the last 160 years has largely gathered chronological and typological data. The high standard of excavations means that questions of site layout and usage can now be considered, but the use of a chronological approach limits the data available on these issues. In order to find better methods for investigating this and for interpreting the available data, research was undertaken into ethnographic and ethnohistorical records of shell midden usage by Aboriginal Australian people. The assumption was not that these records could be used to directly interpret Danish archaeological evidence, but to contemplate the spatial aspect of site use and the archaeological implications this may have.

The research undertaken involved classifying data on a range of aspects of shell midden/coastal usage by Aboriginal people in southeast and tropical northern Australia. These data were synthesised as an overview of aspects of shell midden use (from shellfish gathering to food preparation to discard). Consideration was then given to the archaeological implications of these historical/spatial data.

Results demonstrate that current excavation techniques employed in Denmark (and elsewhere) are inadequate for assessing how shell midden sites were used and formed through time. The area covered by even a small settlement is many times larger than the areas currently being excavated. Without understanding how these settlements were laid out and used by the people of the late Mesolithic, it is hard to draw conclusions about the way in which sites built up through time, and of their relationship with other sites. The best way to investigate site layout is to concentrate on methods which will help define contemporary midden surfaces, such as refitting, and to develop suitable excavation techniques.

 

Paul Irish
Part Past, Part Fiction: Being a Contribution to Mesolithic Shell Midden Research in Denmark Using Information from Aboriginal Australia
December 2006
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Thesis Abstracts
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