Midden formation and marine specialisation at Goemu village, Mabuyag, Torres Strait, before and after European contact

Ian James McNiven, Duncan John Wright, Shannon Sutton, Marshall Weisler, Scott Hocknull, John Stanisic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Goemu village site on Mabuyag features one of the largest midden deposits recorded in Torres Strait. Following pioneering mapping and excavations of the site by archaeologists from University College London (UCL) in 1985, we document in detail results of follow-up excavations undertaken at two linear mounded midden deposits by archaeologists from Monash University in 2005. Comprehensive radiocarbon dating indicates Square A mound formed c.350-450 cal BP while Square B mound formed c.950-1,000 cal BP. Both mounds reveal a subsistence focus on dugong and turtle hunting supplemented by fishing and shellfishing from adjacent intertidal reef flats and mangrove forests. Lower densities of dugong bone in Square A probably reflect concomitant deposition of dugong bones in specialised ritual bone mounds. Inclusion of dog teeth, teeth extracted from children post-mortem and high density surface concentrations of bottle glass fragments in Square B indicate ritualised deposition before and after European contact. Other material culture includes pearl shell scrapers and ground clam shell adornments. Charcoal underlying midden deposits suggests pre-village landscape firing while land snails within midden deposits suggest shade trees once occurred across the now fire-induced, anthropogenic grasslands of Goemu. Intensified use of Goemu within the past 500 years parallels intensified village occupation on nearby Pulu islet, thus revealing the complementary social history of settlement sites across Goemulgaw territory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377 - 475
Number of pages99
JournalQueensland Museum. Memoirs. Cultural Heritage Series
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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