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Temporal variability in shell mound formation at Albatross Bay, northern Australia

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  • Simon Holdaway
  • Patricia Fanning
  • Fiona Petchy
  • Kasey Allely
  • Justin Shiner
  • Geoff Bailey


Publication details

JournalPLoS ONE
DateAccepted/In press - 11 Aug 2017
DatePublished (current) - 30 Aug 2017
Issue number8
Number of pages24
Pages (from-to)1-24
Original languageEnglish


We report the results of 212 radiocarbon determinations from the archaeological excavation of 70 shell mound deposits in the Wathayn region of Albatross Bay, Australia. This is an intensive study of a closely co-located group of mounds within a geographically restricted area in a wider region where many more shell mounds have been reported. Valves from the bivalve Tegillarcca granosa were dated. The dates obtained are used to calculate rates of accumulation for the shell mound deposits. These demonstrate highly variable rates of accumulation both within and between mounds. We assess these results in relation to likely mechanisms of shell deposition and show that rates of deposition are affected by time-dependent processes both during the accumulation of shell deposits and during their subsequent deformation. This complicates the interpretation of the rates at which shell mound deposits appear to have accumulated. At Wathayn, there is little temporal or spatial consistency in the rates at which mounds accumulated. Comparisons between the Wathayn results and those obtained from shell deposits elsewhere, both in the wider Albatross Bay region and worldwide, suggest the need for caution when deriving behavioural inferences from shell mound deposition rates, and the need for more comprehensive sampling of individual mounds and groups of mounds.

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© 2017, The Author(s).


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