Thesis abstract ‘An Analysis of Mound Formation at Milligimbi, Northern Territory’

23rd May 2014

Andrew Roberts

Master of Letters thesis, Department of Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology, University of New England, April 1991

This Master of Letters thesis presents a summary of archaeological and geomorphological research that has a bearing on the study area, Milingimbi, northeast Arnhem Land. It determines that the archaeological sites on the island are comparable to coastal sites found elsewhere in the north. In doing so it details the results of previous archaeological work undertaken at Milingimbi (McCarthy and Setzler 1960; Mulvaney 1975; Warner 1969) and presents data on six sites that were investigated on the island in 1989–90.

This thesis primarily reviews some of the agents of mound formation that may affect the interpretation of coastal archaeological sites in Australia. In particular it looks at features associated with the behaviour of some mounding and burrowing animals that are found at Milingimbi, including the orange footed scrub fowl (Megapodius reinwardt), the horn eyed ghost crab (Ocypode ceratopthalma) and the moniter lizard (Varanus punctatus). It also examines the discard and mounding behaviour of the Yolngu and Anbarra people of Arnhem Land in terms of interpreting the past (Meehan 1982).

Data are presented on 118 sites recorded at Milingimbi in 1989–90. Sites are assessed in relation to a number of factors including location, vegetation, species representation, condition, matrix, stone tools and hearths. Sites in the study area appear to have at least seven different manifestations and these can be attributed to a number of different variables (including the activities of scrub fowls).

Finally this thesis assesses the role of the scrub fowl in the formation of archaeological features at Milingimbi as suggested by Stone (1989, 1991). It suggests that a range of bioturbators operate on sites in different areas and that locational details are prime determinants. The evidence at Milingimbi for the creation of mounds by the scrub fowl is limited to areas that were or are thickly forested by semi-deciduous vine thickets. Deposits utilised by these animals for the incubation of eggs are however demonstrably different to the deposits built by hunter-gatherers although it is apparent that overlaps exist that need further clarification based on taphonomical analysis.


McCarthy, F.D. and F.M. Setzler 1960 The archaeology of Arnhem Land. In C.P. Mountford (ed.), Records of the American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land. Vol. 2, Anthropology and Nutrition, Ch. 5. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Meehan, B. 1982 Shell Bed to Shell Midden. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Mulvaney, D.J. 1975 The Prehistory of Australia. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Stone, T. 1989 Origins and environmental significance of shell and earthmounds in northern Australia. Archaeology in Oceania 24(2):59–64.

Stone, T. 1991 Two birds with one stone: A reply. Archaeology In Oceania 26(1):26–27.

Warner, W.L 1969 A Black Civilisation: A Social Study of an Australian Tribe (Revised edition). Peter Smith: Gloucester. Mass.

Roberts, A.
Thesis abstract ‘An Analysis of Mound Formation at Milligimbi, Northern Territory’
December 1991
Thesis Abstracts
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