Thesis abstract ‘Exchange of Items or Ideas: Current Implications of the Torres Strait Pottery’

03rd May 2014

Catherine Hays

BA(Hons), Department of Anthropology, Archaeology and Sociology, School of Arts and Social Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, November 2013

Pottery sherds have been discovered in the Torres Strait Islands, northeastern Australia, in the last 15 years. They were recovered during excavations at Mabuyag Island and Pulu Islet in the west, and the islands of Mer and Dauar in the east. This project is an examination of the archaeological evidence and interpretation of these sherds. This investigation is relevant for several reasons, including the fact that it is the first pottery discovered in Torres Strait, and indeed Australia. Pottery was not part of A.C. Haddon’s collection of Torres Strait material culture, nor had it been documented in oral histories. Evidence relating to 44 pottery sherds was examined in this project. Some of these sherds feature a slip on the exterior surface and are from thin-walled vessels, suggesting relatively sophisticated techniques. However, the sherds’ small size makes it difficult to identify vessel features or curvature. The sherd data was analysed on the basis of a number of characteristics, including site name, island name, stratigraphic unit, associated dates and phases, sherd fabric, and presence of slip or other decoration. The archaeological context of the sherds was also examined. Results of this analysis were then compared with interpretations and claims concerning their significance. Claims have been made for an association between the pottery and horticulture in the eastern islands (Carter 2004a) and for a ritual or specialised use in the western islands (McNiven et al. 2006; Wright and Dickinson 2009). However, ritual purpose for all the pottery seems likely, given the rarity of the finds. Claims for ‘Australia’s first known pottery tradition’ (McNiven et al. 2006) seem hasty, given the small number of sherds. The presence of the pottery does, however, support a relationship between the Torres Strait Islanders and PNG, and may also suggest contact with Austronesians, such as members of the Lapita culture.

Hays, C.
June 2014
Type: Thesis abstract

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