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Rare Shell Artefacts Discovered on Murray River


Flinders and Griffith archaeologists have discovered rare shell artefacts discovered at Calperum Station and Murrawong (Glen Lossie) on the Murray River in SA.

Modified freshwater mussel shells from between 600-6,000 years ago confirm Aboriginal Ancestors not only made tools but skillfully made artistic pieces using available materials.

Two of the shells are perforated, with the other is finely serrated, which the authors say is a very rare artefact with few close Australian examples known to exist.

Potential uses for the perforated shells include ornamentation, tool stringing and fibre scraping while the serrated artefact may have been used for ornamentation, idle tinkering, or as a food utensil.

The artefacts were found in sites known to archaeologists as 'shell middens' in collaboration with the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation and the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation.

Lead author, Flinders Professor Amy Robert, said while midden sites are a common type in many parts of the country, shell artefacts are rarely identified within them.

“These artefacts remind us that middens are not only the remnants of meals eaten long ago, but that they also provide insights into Aboriginal technologies and cultural activities”.

In over 25 years of recording archaeological sites in the region, co-author Craig Westell said he has never come across an object like the serrated artefact.

“It’s a remarkable object to look at, but also highly enigmatic.”

Ngarrindjeri archaeologist Dr Chris Wilson and River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation spokesperson Fiona Giles say accounts about the use of shell recorded from Aboriginal Elders who lived along the Murray River opened space for the team to think about the functional, symbolic, and aesthetic importance of these objects.

“This recent shell finds confirm that our Ancestors not only made utensils and tools for everyday use, but they were also gifted with making artistic pieces using any materials that were readily available.” said Fiona Giles.

Photo of perforated shell artefact from Murrawong courtesy of Christopher Wilson. supplied by Flinders Univeristy