Aboriginal earth mounds of the Calperum Floodplain (Murray Darling Basin, South Australia): New radiocarbon dates, sediment analyses and syntheses, and implications for behavioural change

Robert Jones, Amy Roberts, Craig Westell, Ian Moffat, Geraldine Jacobsen, Rachel Rudd, River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper presents the results of an archaeological investigation into anthropogenic earth (oven) mounds located on the Murray River floodplain at Calperum Station in the Renmark region of South Australia. Six mounds were excavated and their contents examined. Sediment analyses were also conducted to assess magnetic susceptibility, grain size and loss on ignition. Radiocarbon age estimates were obtained on shell and charcoal. Mound contents primarily included anthropogenically burnt clay (heat retainers), charcoal, fragments of mussel shell as well as very minor quantities of other faunal material and stone artefacts (which were consistent with previous lithic assessments for the region). The radiocarbon age determinations from 15 samples indicate that mounds were formed by Aboriginal people on the Calperum floodplain from at least 3981–3723 cal BP and utilised up to the time of European invasion. The very minimal amount of faunal remains (other than mussel shell), artefacts and a general lack of other material evidence apart from clay heat retainers, confirms that these features were single purpose and not used as living areas. Sediment analyses and radiocarbon dates indicate a high degree of homogeneity within mounds but provide insights into an economic transition on the Calperum floodplain, at around 4000 cal BP involving a food-production procurement strategy based on heat retainer technology and the exploitation of emergent macrophytes.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalThe Holocene
Early online date21 May 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Funding was provided by an Australian Research Council Linkage Project (LP170100479). Dr Ian Moffat was the recipient of Australian Research Council DECRA Fellowship (DE160100703) and a Flinders University Research Investment Fund Grant. Radiocarbon dating at ANSTO was funded by an ANSTO research grant AP12533. The authors acknowledge the financial support from the Australian Government for the Centre for Accelerator Science at ANSTO through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). Additional funding was provided to Robert Jones by the Australian Archaeological Association Student Research Grant Scheme and a student grant from the Royal Society of South Australia.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


  • Aboriginal earth mounds
  • Murray Darling Basin
  • South Australia
  • integrated study
  • content and sediment analysis
  • magnetic susceptibility
  • radiocarbon dating


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