New archaeological research conducted by Flinders University, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the University of Queensland has described significant earth mound features created by Aboriginal people in the Riverland region of South Australia.
The earth mounds were found during archaeological field work conducted in collaboration with the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation.
The team excavated six earth mounds on the Calperum Station floodplains in order to examine their contents using a range of scientific methods and to collect samples of charcoal and shell for radiocarbon dating.
The discoveries range in age from 4000 years old up until the time of European invasion.
Robert Jones, a PhD candidate at Flinders University and the lead author of the paper, says that the earth mounds were formed by the repeated use of earth oven cooking methods in the same location over extensive periods of time.
“Clay balls were used to retain the heat in the underground ovens, which we believe were primarily used to cook aquatic plants such as bulrush tubers, to be used for food and fibre production,” said Jones.
Co-author Professor Amy Roberts from Flinders University said “the introduction of this type of cooking on a large scale represents a major innovation in the lifeways of Aboriginal people in the Mid Holocene period, which would have had significant social and cultural implications.”
Ms Fiona Giles, a spokesperson for the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation, said the discovery revealed a lot about the knowledge of her Ancestors.
“The recent excavations of the hearths situated on Calperum station have revealed how our Ancestors used a variety of cooking techniques when there were large, constant gatherings of First Nations people. This recent find has highlighted our Ancestors’ knowledge of different soils within the landscape and how clay was used for retaining heat.”
The paper, ‘Aboriginal earth mounds of the Calperum floodplain’ (2022) by R. Jones, A.L. Roberts, C. Westell, I. Moffat, G. Jacobsen, R. Rudd and the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation has been published in The Holocene (https://doi.org/10.1177/09596836221095981)
Images supplied by Flinders University