Archaeology Middens

PhD is done!

At long, long last I am happy to report that my doctoral dissertation is through the examination process and came out largely unscathed. Although I need to make some minor corrections and graduate before it is ‘official’, it really all hinges on examiners comments which I received a few weeks ago. They were good, so I thought it might be timely to post my abstract.

The shell mounds of Albatross Bay: an archaeological investigation of late Holocene gatherer-hunter production strategies near Weipa, north eastern Australia.

This thesis presents the results of an archaeological investigation of shell matrix sites, and in particular, shell mounds sites that occur around the shores of Albatross Bay, near Weipa on the north western Cape York Peninsula, northern Australia. It is the contention of this thesis that earlier approaches to the investigation of shell mound sites in northern Australia have tended to place too much emphasis on developing long-term explanatory models that gloss over explanations for the specific roles of these unique sites in past economic systems. While long-term explanations represent important contributions, it is argued here that short-term decadal scale modelling of the production systems associated with shell mound formation and use are required in order to fully understand the significance of the mid- to late Holocene emergence of these types of sites. It is argued that a focus on production – defined in a substantive economic sense – is a suitable avenue through which archaeologists can expand our understanding of the role of these features in past Indigenous societies, and their broader importance on longer-term time scales

The thesis thus develops a detailed model of the production strategies associated with the formation of shell mound sites that occur around Albatross Bay, while also considering the broader significance of this model, particularly within the context of Cape York Peninsula. It presents the results of field surveys and excavations carried out around Albatross Bay by the author, as well as a detailed review and analysis of work carried out by others. It is argued that shell mounds are the result of relatively specialised production activities focussing on a very specific resource base: mudflat shellfish species. Shell mounds offered a range of unique benefits for people engaged in these specialised activities, including as camp sites and as specialised activity areas. These events were inherently flexible in size and in terms of timing, reflecting the dynamic nature of the resource base itself; yet the flexible nature of this production strategy also enabled more regular small scale social gatherings, along with a range of social and economic benefits to participants, than would have been otherwise possible. It is proposed that these types of strategies may represent an important characteristic of the production systems employed by gatherer-hunter peoples in late Holocene Cape York.

Overall, this thesis makes a significant contribution to both our understanding of late Holocene lifeways at Albatross Bay as well as to our understanding of the significance of the emergence of shell mound sites in Cape York. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of a focus on short-term modelling of Indigenous lifeways alongside approaches oriented toward longer-term explanations of economic, social and environmental change.

I’m in the process of making the final corrections and within a few months expect it to be available online and open access via the Open Digital Thesis Program. I’ll post again when that happens.

Morrison, M.J. 2010 The shell mounds of Albatross Bay: an archaeological investigation of late Holocene production strategies near Weipa, north eastern Australia. Unpublished PhD thesis, Adelaide: Department of Archaeology, Flinders University.

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5 replies on “PhD is done!”

Your thesis sounds interesting. I’m working on an Alaskan shell midden site – so the topic has a lot of relevance. Congratulations on finally getting the little paper out of the way. The rest is all down hill.

Congratulations Mick, well done. Oh, and thanks to you I have been picked up for archiving on the National Library’s Pandora project ( for ensuring blogs are not lost.

EDIT 7 Nov 2010 – It seems the link to David’s site is not longer working and I’m unable to find out if/where it has moved to!

Hi David, thanks for stopping by. Yes I was surprised to be asked to do that as well but overall a very good thing I think. I must say, I haven’t been keeping up with my blog reading lately (keeping up with academic literature is almost a full time job in itself!) and so I haven’t taken a look at your blog for some time. I shall take a look tonight though, and I hope you are well.

Thanks for being a nice academic and putting your thesis up online! I’m writing a site report on Weipa at the moment (for Australasian Arch at UQ) and your thesis looks great.


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