Another kettle of fish : the prehistoric Moreton Bay fishery

Walters, Ian Noel (1987). Another kettle of fish : the prehistoric Moreton Bay fishery PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

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Author Walters, Ian Noel
Thesis Title Another kettle of fish : the prehistoric Moreton Bay fishery
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1987
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Total pages 397
Language eng
Subjects 0704 Fisheries Sciences
210301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History
Formatted abstract
This thesis examines a marine fishery in prehistory. Ethnohistorical records of Aboriginal fishing in the Moreton Bay area and an analysis of excavated fish remains from eight archaeological sites provide for an interpretation of two thousand years of fishery management. In a coastal environment not relatively rich in terrestrial resources, prehistoric subsistence took a maritime focus, with fish being a principal component of the food supply.

Vertebrae and other post-cranial remains dominated the archaeological samples. An analysis which concentrated upon cranial skeletal elements would have produced a significantly different picture of catch composition. The study of vertebrae permitted a degree of taphonomic control otherwise unobtainable.

All catches were dominated by one or two taxa, and patterns of species abundance took the form of geometric and log series distributions. The most diverse catches were those from sites adjacent to the dune-island barrier surf beaches. Fishers were able to specialize to a significantly greater degree in mangrove estuarine habitats. Fish were significantly larger in catches from the eastern bay than from the west. This pattern follows from the life cycle characteristics of relevant populations, whereby juveniles form a larger proportion of samples taken from mangrove-estuarine areas in the western bay. The fishery operated inshore throughout its history.

Seasonality assessment was undertaken by examination of growth rings on skeletal elements of mullet and whiting. Samples of vertebrae of these taxa from two sites, Sandstone Point and Toulkerrie, were amenable to determination of season of death. A significant seasonal emphasis was demonstrated, corresponding to periods of boom prey abundance. But a significant proportion ofthe catch was also taken in off-peak times. This analysis suggested that during the last thousand years at least, fish were caught throughout the year. This implied sedentary occupation inthe bay area during the most recent millennium.

The suite of fishing material culture was diverse. The data reflect no one-to-one correlation between catches and particular items of fishing gear. Strategies correlated with fish behaviourand ecology to incorporate multiple methods of fish catching at given times and places. The absence of fish hooks throughout the history of the fishery cannot adequately be explained by recourse to environmental phenomena. The pattern of hook and line fishing in eastern Australia is interpreted in terras of the social relations of production prevailing in various regions. A case is made for the removal of the strict distinction between resources and subsistence technology as factors determining demographic parameters.

The pattern of fishing strategies is accounted for in large part as a series of adaptive responses to environmental heterogeneity. However, establishment of the fishery late in the Holocene, together with the deployment of material culture items and growth in fish production through time, suggests that adaptation cannot account for all aspects of fishery practice. The dynamics of social and cultural variables cannot be discounted as deterministic with regard to these phenomena.
Keyword Fishing, Prehistoric -- Queensland -- Moreton Bay
Fisheries -- Queensland -- Moreton Bay
Aboriginal Australians -- Queensland -- Moreton Bay -- Fishing
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Document type: Thesis
Collections: Queensland Past Online (QPO)
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Created: Mon, 16 Nov 2009, 11:41:42 EST by Lachlan Kuhn on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service