Dating the Dreaming? Creation of Myths and Rituals for Mounds along the Northern Australian Coastline
Shell mounds ceased to be built in many parts of coastal northern Australia about 800–600 years ago. They are the subject of stories told by Aboriginal people and some have been incorporated in ritual and political activities during the last 150 years. These understandings emerged only after termination of the economic and environmental system that created them, 800–600 years ago, in a number of widely separated coastal regions. Modern stories and treatments of these mounds by Aboriginal people concern modern or near-modern practices. Modern views of the mounds, their mythological and ritual associations, may be explained by reference to the socioeconomic transitions seen in the archaeological record; but the recent cultural, social and symbolic statements about these places cannot inform us of the process or ideology concerned with the formation of the mounds. Many Aboriginal communities over the last half a millennium actively formed understandings of new landscapes and systems of land use. Attempts to impose historic ideologies and cosmologies on earlier times fail to acknowledge the magnitude and rate of economic and ideological change on the tropical coastline of Australia.(Received September 15 2005)
(Revised November 16 2005)
Key Words: shell mounds, Australia; Aborigines, land use; Dreamtime; Aborigines, mythology.