Thesis abstract ‘Prehistoric Aboriginal Settlement and Subsistence in the Cooloola Region, Coastal Southeast Queensland’

23rd May 2014

Ian McNiven

PhD, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, The University of Queensland, February 1991

This PhD thesis examines Holocene Aboriginal settlement and subsistence behaviour for the Cooloola region, coastal southeast Queensland. It focuses upon methodological problems of systemic site interaction and theoretical issues of human responses to spatial variations in resource structure. The study is based upon the results of surveys (site and non-site) and excavations, and represents Stage 2 of the Cooloola Region Archaeological Project (CRAP).

Two major chronological phases are identified. Recent Phase sites (ca 900–100 BP) are represented by a complex of shell middens and shell scatters located up to 12 km inland from the present shoreline. These sites demonstrate specialized exploitation of marine shellfish and fish species. Stone artefact assemblages are dominated by local raw materials and bevel-edged tools (bevelled pounders). Early Phase sites (ca 5500–2300 BP) are dominated by large stone artefact scatters exhibiting exotic raw materials and a greater variety of implement types (e.g. bevel-edged tools, backed blades, bifacial points).

Recent Phase middens are restricted mostly to the estuarine resource-rich southern and northern parts of Codoola. These areas not only exhibit all of the recorded ceremonial/ritual (e.g. ‘bora ring’, burial) sites across the region, but also correspond to the locations of historically-recorded Aboriginal groups and activities during the 19th century. I argue that such site patterning demonstrates the potential effects of resource productivity upon spatial organization of Aboriginal social, ceremonial and subsistence activities.

A detailed land-use model, consisting of eastern (oceanic) and western (estuarine) settlement-subsistence sub-systems is generated for northern midden sites. Both sub-systems comprise coastal base camps and associated ephemeral rainforest and/or swamp plant food foraging camps scattered across adjacent inland areas.

Initial occupation of Cooloola some 5500 years ago is associated with a localized adaptation of an existing coastal settlement-subsistence system which had been advancing westwards across the continental shelf with the postglacial marine transgression. I suggest, based on the presence of bifacial points and tula adzes, that historically-recorded inter-regional social alliances between southeast and southern central Queensland may have had their beginnings soon after this time.

Recent Phase occupation of the region is associated with increases in both Aboriginal activity and the relative exploitation of local resources (e.g. shellfish, stone). Such changes may have followed changes in socio-political organisation which saw the development of more localized or regionalised residential groups culminating In the organizational patterns observed by Europeans last century.

McNiven, I.J.
Thesis abstract ‘Prehistoric Aboriginal Settlement and Subsistence in the Cooloola Region, Coastal Southeast Queensland’
December 1991
Thesis Abstracts
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