Shell bed to shell midden




Meehan, Betty Francis

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This thesis is about the role of shellfish in the total diet of a group of coastal hunters and gatherers. The shell gathering activities of the Anbara, a group of Gidjingali-speaking Australian Aborigines living around the mouth of the Blyth River in Arnhem Land during 1972-3, is described in detailed quantitative terms. Reasons for choosing this topic are discussed in Chapter 1 where attention is drawn to the contrast between the abundance of shell midden deposits in the archaeological record and the paucity of shell gathering studies amongst contemporary hunters and gatherers. The Gidjingali are introduced in Chapters 2 and 3 in which an account of their culture, history and present situation is given, together with a description of the major features of their hunting life during 1972-3. Fieldwork conditions and methods are discussed in Chapter 4. Chapters 5 to 9 contain data about the shellfish gathering that occurred during 1972-3. Chapter 5 describes Gidjingali systems of classification that incorporate shellfish taxa; while Chapter 6 elucidates the major patterns of shellfish predation. A detailed ethnographic background for this quantitative data is provided in Chapter 7, where the collection, cooking and disposal of shellfish are described. The performances of individual gatherers are presented in Chapter 8 and the conclusions are compared with those from other similar studies. The contribution made by shellfish to the total Anbara diet is assessed in Chapter 9 and the diets of several other foraging groups are examined. Destruction of the open sea Blyth River shell beds, during the 1973-4 wet season is discussed in terms of the changing role of shellfish in Anbara diet. Evidence for dietary changes within the remembered past are presented; together with an introduction to the numerous prehistoric shell middens on Anbara territory which extend back in time to the days of the ’dreaming.






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