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SOE Excavation & Reconstruction

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FC: September 2014 by Erica Walther and Justin Shiner | South of Embley Shell Midden Excavation and Reconstruction

1: This book tells the story of the moving and rebuilding of shell middens from where Rio Tinto Alcan plan to build a ferry terminal on the Hey River in Wik-Waya country. The elders wanted the middens moved so that the Old People would know that their things are safe and are being looked after. Doing this work also helps us to understand the history of the shell middens. From this we can learn about how the Old People lived at this place.

3: Add | Starting Out We stayed at the Evans Landing Camp and each day travelled on a boat across the Embley River to Hey Point. We walked or took the car on the track to the middens. The Elders came with us on the first day to talk about how we should do the work and how important it was for the young people to be out on country helping to look after the Old Peoples places.

5: Land Management Before we started work it was very important for the land to be cleaned up as the grass was very thick. Uncle Tony asked Richard and Garrett to burn the country and make it safe to do the work. The fire also helped us see artefacts and the shells on the surface of the middens.

6: Preparing Before moving the middens we had to do an archaeological excavation to study the middens. To do this we first cleaned up the grass and leaves that were covering the shells. We mapped all the shell we could see on the ground and worked out how we were going to excavate the middens. We decided to do a big trench into the midden to allow us to collect shell samples.

9: Excavating After we finished mapping the middens we then dug a trench into the middle of them. From this we could see how far each midden was below the ground and how they were made.

10: Sorting and Analysing We collected some shells from each midden to workout what types of shell fish the Old People ate. The shell were sorted into different types and then counted.We found that the middens were made of mostly cockle shells. We also took a small number of shells to be tested so we can find out how old the middens are.

12: Food On some days we were lucky enough to eat some oysters which grow on the mangroves. This shows how much the environment has changed over time as there are no oysters in the middens. We also had damper and billy tea, and we also got to have some fish Richard caught!

15: Excavating the middens We collected all of the soil where we could see shells on the surface. This was put on a shaker that we made so we could take out all of the shells and leave the soil behind. We then weighed the shells and put them in a wheelbarrow and took them to the place where the new midden would be made. The Elders decided that the new midden was to be made on the edge of the vine scrub near where the ferry terminal would be.

17: Reconstruction Everyone helped to move the shells and the samples we had taken to their new place near the edge of the vine scrub. The midden was built up with layers of soil and shell. The new midden will be protected and some information will be put up about the story of the midden.

19: Through our work together we hope to understand what people did in the past, and to protect cultural heritage places on country. We thank the elders who gave their permission for this work to happen and Richard, Norman, Garrett, Helen and Kathy for helping do the work. The Western Cape Communities Coexistence Agreement Coordinating Committee and Scott, Eloise, Steph, Bella and Jerry from Rio Tinto Alcan.

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  • By: Erica W.
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    • By: Justin S.
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