Ritualised marine midden formation in western Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait)




McNiven, Ian J
Wright, Duncan

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ANU ePress


Marine subsistence specialisation is a central theme in the archaeology of Oceania. Shell middens provide the main material evidence for marine specialisation through food remains (e.g. bones and shells) and technology (e.g. fishhooks). For the most part, middens are considered domestic refuse deposits and the byproduct of people living their daily lives. In contrast, sites such as houses and ritual structures are considered part of the built domain and architecture of settlements. Over the past decade or so, the role of refuse deposits as secular byproducts of society has been challenged by the concepts of ‘ritual rubbish’ and ‘ceremonial trash’ (e.g. Hill 1995; Walker 1995; Needham and Spence 1997; Chapman 2000; Cameron 2002; see also Hodder 1982:161). This reconceptualisation recognises the biographical and symbolic dimensions of ‘refuse’ and the embeddedness of midden materials in ritual behaviour, place-marking strategies, construction of cultural landscapes and maintenance of social identity. In Australia, appreciation is slowly emerging of the agency and symbolic value of domestic ‘refuse’ given monumental expression as curated mounds to inscribe landscapes with new and ongoing social meanings (e.g. Morrison 2003; Bourke 2005; Hiscock and Faulkner 2006; see also Meehan 1982). In the 1980s, Barbara Ghaleb (1990) pioneered Australian archaeological investigations into the ‘ceremonial’ and ‘symbolic’ role of mounded midden deposits with her PhD research on the ‘old village’ site of Goemu on the island of Mabuyag, Zenadh Kes. Since Ghaleb’s research, Mabuyag has been the focus of investigations into another type of ritual site constructed of food remains – dugong bone mounds (McNiven and Feldman 2003; McNiven and Bedingfield 2008). In light of new insights into dugong bone mounds and ritual treatment of subsistence remains, this paper reexamines conceptualisation and identification of mounded midden deposits at Goemu, based on excavations at the site by Harris and Ghaleb in 1985 and by us in 2005.





Islands of inquiry: colonisation, seafaring and the archaeology of maritime landscapes (Terra Australis 29)


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