Aboriginal serrated and perforated shell artefacts from the Murray River, South Australia

Amy Roberts, Craig Westell, Chris Wilson, Michelle Langley, River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation, Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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This article describes three freshwater mussel shell artefacts recently documented for the Murray River in South Australia. These finds more than double the known examples of such artefacts from this region. Two of the modified shells are perforated, with the other serrated. The finely serrated item is a rare artefact and we have not located any similar published examples in Australia, although international correlates exist. The function/s and cultural significance of the objects are also considered in this paper. Hypotheses for the perforated finds include ornamentation, tool stringing and fibre scraping. Ornamentation, idle tinkering and food utensil use are considered as possible intended functions for the serrated artefact. Given the age range of the objects reported here (c. 6181–517 cal BP), together with other finds in the Murray Darling Basin, we tentatively suggest that shells have been a material resource used continually in this region for a range of purposes. However, as argued by other researchers, we concur that there has probably been infrequent identification and reporting of such shell artefacts. This is considered particularly likely given that our finds were recovered from relatively small scale excavation/coring and surface sampling efforts. As such, this paper attempts to raise awareness of this form of material culture in archaeological sequences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-27
Number of pages12
JournalArchaeology in Oceania
Issue number1
Early online date15 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was conducted with the support of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (project number CE170100015) and an ARC Linkage Project (LP170100479). The authors also acknowledge the financial support from the Australian Government for the 14C dating at the Centre for Accelerator Science at ANSTO through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) (Access Grant AP11268), in particular we acknowledge the expertise provided by Dr Geraldine Jacobsen. The authors also thank the staff at Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Department of State Development, Government of South Australia, for their assistance with permits. The authors thank the Australian Landscape Trust for their ongoing support of research at Calperum Station. This project was approved by the Flinders University Social and Behavioural Research Ethics Committee (numbers 6618 and 8406). We thank Chantal Wight for the provision of technical assistance, Fran Sheldon for advice on predator species, Kim Akerman for providing reference materials, Vivienne Wood for comments on various drafts and Christèle Maizonniaux for generous assistance with French translations. We also thank the two very generous and helpful anonymous reviewers and the Editors for assisting us to improve the content of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Oceania Publications


  • River Murray
  • organic technologies
  • southeast Australia
  • shell-working
  • freshwater mussel


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