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Archaeobotany of Aboriginal plant foods during the Holocene at Riwi, south central Kimberley, Western Australia

  • India Ella Dilkes-HallEmail author
  • Jane Balme
  • Sue O’Connor
  • Emilie Dotte-Sarout
Original Article
  • 4 Downloads

Abstract

Riwi, a limestone cave located in the south central Kimberley, northwest Western Australia, has one of the most accurately dated archaeological sequences in Australia, with human occupation beginning between 46,400 and 44,600 cal bp. Macrobotanical remains are well preserved at the site, particularly in upper stratigraphic units 1 and 2 dated to the late and mid-Holocene, respectively. Macrobotanical materials (excluding wood charcoal) are uncommon in Pleistocene contexts, and direct dating of some of the macrobotanical remains recovered from Pleistocene hearths suggest that they derive from the directly superposed Holocene layers. Analysis of the macrobotanical remains from the Holocene layers reveals a pattern where Aboriginal groups occupying Riwi intermittently between 7,000 years ago and the present principally exploited monsoon rainforest ecosystems for food plants, especially Vitex cf. glabrata. Fruiting times of dominant monsoon rainforest taxa indicate that the site was occupied seasonally, corresponding with periods of rainfall when people were able to move away from rivers and other permanent water sources. Results demonstrate a strong cultural preference for fruits associated with monsoon rainforest—a vegetation type restricted in distribution—highlighting the importance of moisture retaining limestone outcrops in foragers’ subsistence organisation in the south central Kimberley.

Keywords

Australian archaeology Macrobotanical remains Economic plants Monsoon rainforest Holocene 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Mimbi community, especially Rosemary Nuggett, for sharing their traditional ecological knowledge and for their assistance with field work. Gooniyandi Traditional Owners, June Davis and Helen Malo, were especially generous in sharing their traditional ecological knowledge. This study has benefited from the botanical expertise of Russell Lindsay Barrett, Matthew David Barrett, and Kevin Kenneally whom we thank for sharing their knowledge on Kimberley flora and assistance with taxonomic identifications. Thank you to Dorcas Vannieuwenhuyse, who produced Figs. 3 and 4a, b. This research was funded by the Australian Research Council Linkage Grant LP100200415 ‘Lifeways of the First Australians’ with contributions from the Kimberley Foundation Australia and the Department of Sustainability, Water, Populations, and Communities, awarded to O’Connor and Balme. Flora were collected in Windjana Gorge National Park with appropriate Regulation 4 Authority-8 and Scientific or Other Prescribed Purposes Licenses. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.

Supplementary material

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Archaeology, M257, School of Social SciencesUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  2. 2.Archaeology and Natural History, School of Culture, History, and Language, College of Asia and the PacificAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and HeritageAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  4. 4.School of Archaeology and AnthropologyAustralian National UniversityActonAustralia

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