Shell Middens

October 18th, 2013, 1pm

The Cliff Top Walk in our little town stretches for several kilometres from Urquhart Bluff to the Split Point Lighthouse. Reaching about 30 metres above sea level, it’s a great place for spotting whales in winter. I love it for long contemplative walks, whether alone or with my partner. Another of the pleasures is looking for shell middens, scattered here and there, containing shellfish remains, bones of fish, birds, land and sea mammals used for food, charcoal from campfires and tools made from stone, shell, and bone.

Mind you, I myself have never found any tools or interesting bones, mostly just cockles and mussels and turban-shaped Warreners. Lately, we have noticed that council workers, or perhaps well-meaning fore-shore volunteers, have been so zealous in laying down gravel that we can’t seem to find the middens any longer. I’m not really worried since these archeological sites are fairly plentiful along the coast. Besides that, the twenty, thirty, forty thousand years that Aborigines have been stopping here means the middens are often metres deep. A little gravel on top won’t hide them forever.

But I do remember the discovery of my first midden in a comfy position, out of the wind and facing out to sea, imagining a happy family gathered around a small cooking fire for a feast of oysters, crabs and scallops. I’m not just being starry eyed here. How many places in the world can you pause to pick up a ten thousand year old artifact and then, before leaving, casually throw it back on the pile?

Kristen, Shu, Abhishek, Cassie and 6 others said thanks.

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David Wade Chambers

Born in Oklahoma: 30 years in US. 6 years in Canada, 40 years in Australia. Academic field: history and philosophy of science. Currently, teach indigenous studies online at Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM) and Brandon University (Manitoba). Come visit our B&B on Australia's Great Ocean Road. Mate's Rates for Hi community! (

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