Radiocarbon dates for baler shell in the Great Sandy Desert

18th November 2013

Mike A. Smith and Peter M. Veth


One of the distinctive features of Aboriginal groups in the Australian desert was the large geographical scale of these hunter-gatherer systems. The residential mobility of groups was invariably high, with some individuals regularly moving 200 km or more, and this was coupled with exchange systems which moved goods across the continent or from coast to interior, often over distances >1000 km (Mulvaney 1976). The scale of these systems is much greater than those recorded for other comparable parts of the world (for example: for southern Africa see Mitchell 1996,Table II: cf Veth 2000 for Australia) and represents a significant challenge for archaeological research into the development of Australian desert societies. The prospect of being able to examine the prehistory of customary trade and exchange systems, social boundaries and regional interconnections has provided incentive for studies of the temporal and spatial distribution of ground-edge axes and grindstones (Binns and McBryde 1972; McBryde 1987), pearl shell and baler shell (Akerman and Stanton 1994; Mulvaney 1976), and red ochre (e.g. Smith and Fankhauser 1996; Smith et al. 1998). Here we report radiocarbon dates indicating ‘down-the-line’ exchange of baler shell (Melo amphora) into the heart of the Great Sandy Desert 2000 years ago.

*Note that an abstract was not included with this paper, and so the introductory paragraph has been included here instead of the abstract.

Smith, M.A. and P.M. Veth
Radiocarbon dates for baler shell in the Great Sandy Desert
Short Report
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