Shell bed or shell midden

22nd May 2014

Locations mentioned in the text (published in Australian Archaeology 34:3).

Locations mentioned in the text (published in Australian Archaeology 34:3).

Val Attenbrow


Distinguishing natural accumulations of shell from Aboriginal shell middens is a problem often faced by archaeologists working in coastal regions (Attenbrow 1984; Ceci 1984; Dortch 1991; McBryde 1973; Statham 1 892). I recently investigated two buried layers of shell which their discoverers thought could be Aboriginal shell middens. One was in Cumberland Street in Sydney’s CBD and the other in St Ives, a northern suburb of Sydney (Figs 1, 2 and 3). My initial field examinations suggested the former was an Aboriginal shell midden and the latter natural shell bed material. It was obvious from their locations, well above the shoreline, that neither were in situ natural shell beds. However, because of the contexts in which they occurred, the question remained: were they, (1) in situ Aboriginal shell middens; (2) humanly redeposited natural shell bed material; (3) humanly re-deposited Aboriginal shell midden; or (4) in the case of Cumberland Street, food remains of early British settlers?

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

Attenbrow, V.
Shell bed or shell midden
June 1992
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