Last Day Reflections

Today was the last day of our fieldwork at Wathayn. Hard to believe that it has been nearly three weeks since we stepped out of the plane into warmth of FNQ. The “build-up” has begun and each afternoon the air is still and heavy with anticipation…but it will be another month or two before it REALLY gets humid, just about the time that Simon Holdaway and I will return for another reconnaissance trip – lucky us!!

We’ve had a great field season: 20 mounds scanned, photographed, described, mapped, excavated, logged, sampled and…photographed again, all in the space of just 16 days. A fantastic effort by the great group of workers we’ve had with us each day from Napranum: Ross, William, Douglas, Graham, Floyd, Jack, and absolute dedication and hard work from our wonderful group of student volunteers – Annelise, Casey, Bernie and Eloise. You’ve probably got to know them almost as well as we have, through this blog – I’m sure you’ll agree it’s been great to learn about this project through the personal perspectives of these budding archaeologists. Tim, the “super” tech, has been unerring in his driving of the laser scanner. Shezani Nazoordeen and Siobhan Walker from Riotinto have also played a big part in keeping everything running smoothly, making sure that our vehicles were fuelled up, the water bottle were filled, the lunches packed, and the workers picked up from Napranum every day, as well as taking part in the fieldwork. And we’ve been really pleased to have Beatrice, Caroline, Elizabeth and Steph with us every day, sorting the ever increasing mountain of shells we’ve collected from the mounds. Justin Shiner, Riotinto Specialist Archaeologist and Partner Investigator on this project, has been tireless in his efforts to manage this project, at the same time as keeping up with all of his many responsibilities. As the primary liaison person between the company, the Indigenous Traditional Owners and us, Justin’s management skills were tested to the max…and he came up trumps!

While the data (all 35 GB of it!) remains to be crunched, we will leave here with a much deeper understanding of the relationships between the physical and biological environment, and the people who lived here in the past, and constructed the mounds. There are landforms that indicate that the environment around Wathayn has markedly changed over the last few thousand years. Craig’s lines of auger holes point to one and perhaps two former shorelines, marked by low gravelly and sandy ridges, much like those found at Red Beach, on the northern shore of the Mission River, today. The innermost shoreline may even have been a low sea cliff cut into the bauxite when sea level was 1-2 meters higher than present, around 7,000 years ago. Two lines of shell mounds sit atop these geomorphic features, suggesting people were attracted to them in the past. Since then the shoreline has prograded as the estuary filled with fine grained sediments, and saltmarsh and mangroves now separate people from the open marine environment favoured by Anadara in this region. While we await confirmation of the temporal pattern of mound construction through radiocarbon dating of the charcoal and shell samples collected from the mounds, it appears that past sea level change and shoreline evolution have played a key role in determining people’s access to resources, i.e. the Anadara that ended up in the shell mounds at Wathayn.

We finished up at Wathayn with a visit from students and teachers from Western Cape College. They listened attentively while Justin, Auntie Beatrice, Simon and I waxed lyrical about Wathayn and the story that was unfolding, particularly about the environmental change over the past few thousand years. Next time they go to Red Beach, they may see it with a changed perspective!


Then back to the Community Relations building for a BBQ lunch with our Traditional Owner hosts to thank them for allowing us to work in their country. We’d also like to thank all the staff at Riotinto, especially the Community Relations people who have put up with us invading their offices for the past three weeks – life will be more peaceful here next week!

Final cleaning and packing away of equipment, checking of data files, saving and backing up the backups, labels on boxes of samples to be uplifted when we’ve left….and we’re done….till next time!!

See you all next year!!

Trish Fanning, co-director, WARPPED

9th September, 2011