Robust local vegetation records from dense archaeological shell matrixes: a palynological analysis of the Thundiy shell deposit, Bentinck Island, Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia

Abstract

This study investigates the palynological remains (both fossil pollen and charcoal) recovered from the Thundiy shell midden deposit, Bentinck Island, Gulf of Carpentaria, northern Australia, to provide a vegetation and fire record for this site, which sheds light on human occupation of the southern Wellesley Archipelago over the late Holocene. Results show that the development of a high-density shell deposit by human activities was directly responsible for pollen preservation, possibly through the creation of a moist, anaerobic environment that reduces oxidation of pollen grains. The presence of recoverable pollen from a shell midden deposit from Bentinck Island provides a valuable new proxy to provide greater context for archaeological records, particularly in terms of local vegetation information and potential insight into human land management practices.

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Acknowledgments

This project was supported under the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Projects (project numbers DP120103179 and DP0663047). We acknowledge Kaiadilt traditional owners of the South Wellesley Islands as partners in this research. The Kaiadilt Aboriginal Corporation collaborated in establishing the research framework for this project. Duncan Kelly and Helene Peck assisted with the excavation of Thundiy, Square B. SU is the recipient of an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT120100656), and LM received funding from AINSE Ltd. (award: John Ferris Memorial Scholar PGRA-10903). We would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers whose suggestions greatly improved this paper.

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Moss, P.T., Ulm, S., Mackenzie, L. et al. Robust local vegetation records from dense archaeological shell matrixes: a palynological analysis of the Thundiy shell deposit, Bentinck Island, Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 511–520 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-016-0394-0

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Keywords

  • Midden
  • Palynology
  • Fire
  • Vegetation change
  • Coastal
  • Northern Australia
  • Indigenous