Island survival: The anthracological and archaeofaunal evidence for colonial-era events on Barrow Island, north-west Australia

Chae Byrne, Tom Dooley, Tiina Manne, Alistair Paterson, Emilie Dotte-Sarout

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Abstract

The establishment of north-west Australia's nineteenth-century pearlshell fisheries led to the first occupation of many arid offshore islands since the early mid-Holocene. The nature of this occupation, and how crews subsisted on such remote landscapes, remains poorly understood. We investigate a rare instance of an archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological record for this colonial-era activity at Bandicoot Bay, Barrow Island. Varied taxonomic representation suggests an atypical subsistence strategy for a maritime industry, involving broad exploitation of resources over several local landscapes and an absence of remains of provisioned food. Identified plant taxa largely conform to resources known ethnographically to have been exploited by north-west Aboriginal communities, and many relate to traditional food practices. The spatial patterning of charred wood and bone suggests multiple burning activities and areas of specific use. Conditions of wood fuel on the island may have prompted the augmentation of fuel, indicated by the presence of non-local wood charcoal and high proportions of calcined bone. These findings (i) are consistent with the hypothesis that the site's occupants originated from the north-west as part of coerced pearling labour and (ii) provide unique insight into the role offshore islands may have occupied in the management of this industry's labour forces.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalArchaeology in Oceania
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Dec 2019

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