In 1973 ancient wooden and stone tools were found at Wyrie Swamp. Among them were the oldest boomerangs and barbed spears in the world. This discovery has given archaeologists a unique insight into hunting and gathering technology 8000-10000 years ago.
|Archaeological work began in 1973. Three main trenches were dug in 10-20 cm layers to a depth of 2 metres. Twenty eight wooden tools were recovered from the bottom of these trenches. As the fragile wooden tools were found, they were carefully removed in wet peat blocks to keep them safe until they could be properly treated and conserved. This dense matted peat provided perfect conditions for almost indefinite preservation of the tools. Photographer R Luebbers, 1973, AA661).|
|Barbed wooden spear tip, photographed as it was found, encased in wet peat The barb was carved from the main shaft. Three spears were recovered including the oldest examples of barbed spears yet discovered This example has been dated at 7 900 years old. Photographer R.A Luebbers, 7973, (AA661).|
|Part of the ancient Wyrie Swamp site, near Millicent, now covered with water following its recent use as a peat quarry. During quarrying the first tools were found and the site's importance was recognised. Photographer R.A Luebbers, 1973, (AA661).|
|A large number of stone tools were recovered. Most have very sharp, worked edges and would have been scrapers or knives. Some were probably used to make wooden artefacts. As they were encased in peat for thousands of years, they show very little weathering. Collector RA Luebbers, 1973, (FS 2.6.3; FS 18.1.2; FS 22.1.3; FS 26.2.7; FS 27.2.31; FS 28.2.18; FS 34.2.2).|
One of the three complete boomerangs found. These boomerangs may have been used to hunt waterfowl The curved upper surfaces prove that 10 000 years ago Aboriginal people had some understanding of aerodynamics. Their small size and thinness contrasts with boomerangs used in the nineteenth century by Aboriginal people of the area. Collector, R.F Leubbers (FS 36.1.2).
|A typical section of the strata.
The density of stone material indicates that Aborigines were living here, rather than just visiting to hunt and gather food After R.A Luebbers, 1973.
The Parnka shell midden was excavated on the shores of the northern Coorong in 1982. Like others in the region, the midden is made of material discarded by Aboriginal people over a period of 1 600 years. These middens contain vital evidence about Aboriginal use of the coastal environment.
The Parnka midden - a coastal camp of the Tangani people
This midden, the largest of four at Parnka, is 430 metres long and up to 1.5 metres deep. It contains the remains of about 250 million cockles, I million crabs and 230 million fish - enough food to provide one meal for a family for each day of the 1600 years of occupation. Like other Coorong middens, this midden was probably a base camp for much of the year. Its occupants collected from the ocean beach, the sandhills of the Peninsula, and the Coorong lagoon.
What we can learn from middens
The different layers in the midden reveal important clues about the way the site was inhabited. For example, greater numbers of mixed and broken shells in the upper layers suggest that more people used the midden in the recent period. The amount of charcoal from campfires and the range of cockle sizes in the midden suggest that it was used throughout the year, in colder and warmer weather. Evidence from these Coorong middens tells us that the Tangani lived here semi-permanently and were not nomadic people.
|A portrait of Clarence Long (Milerum), a Ngarrindjeri man of the Tangani group. Milerum was one of the last Ngarrindjeri people to be brought up in a bush camp, away from Europeans. As a result, his knowledge of traditions and sites in his country, the upper Coorong was extremely detailed. Artist. L Wilkie, 1932, (AS4070).|
What is in a midden?
The midden shells are mostly those of the Goolwa cockle (Plebidonax deltoides), brought from the ocean beach 300 metres away. The dark colour is caused by fine sediment from the Coorong lagoon.
|Although the midden is composed mainly of shells and silt, it can be divided into three main levels, each containing evidence from different periods of occupation. Museum diorama|
The upper section contains much less material, indicating a change in traditional patterns of land use after European contact. After the 1850s cattle and sheep were grazed here and these animals were probably responsible for breaking up most of the shell. The presence of ochre suggests that Aborigines were still living at the midden at the time. Ngarrindjeri people (including Tangani descendants) have continued to visit the Parnka area during recent times and today several families still camp there during summer holiday periods.
The middle section contains denser material with large numbers of whole shells. Very few stone tools were found in the midden. The presence of ochre throughout probably indicates ceremonial activity. Increased disturbance of the shell layers indicates that people were using the midden more intensively than in the earlier period.
The first signs of occupation, about 1600 years ago. Ash and stones from cooking fires and remains of fish, crab, land mammals and birds are found among the layers of shell deposited on top of the dune sands.