Emerging archaeological evidence from archaeological sites in northern Cape York has the potential to shed light on indigenous cultural practices relating to turtle hunting. This paper explores the nexus between cultural practice and indigenous ecological knowledge and ‘lost’ knowledge which has implications for how Traditional Owners may chose to manage resources today. Often when we hear of Indigenous environmental management techniques the focus is on management ‘practices’ e.g mosaic burning, rather than ‘systems’. While not denying that some practices may be useful or cost effective alternatives to other ‘western science’ based land management practices the question needs to be asked: how effective can these be in ecosystem management if adopted in isolation of the other components of Indigenous management systems?
Lines (2006) has challenged the efficacy of Indigenous management systems and questioned their sustainability but provides little evidence that he understands the complexity of such systems and the interrelationship of nature and culture, or indeed that he believes such systems exist. A more valid question is, what happens to these complex systems when key elements are discontinued, lost or destroyed? Perhaps if we, in partnership with Aboriginal communities, explore the changes to such systems over time we can begin to understand the consequences of these changes and the implications for long term species and ecosystem management. This paper provides preliminary outcomes of a current archaeological project which may further this discussion.
At the time when European’s were first re cor ding observations along the Cape York Peninsula coastline, Aboriginal people and their Torres Strait Islander neighbours were hunting and consuming turtle and dugong in numbers great enough to be remarked on. Sites comprising heaped turtle and dugong bones were noted and in some cases sketched. Populations of both animals were however extremely healthy, the size of herds of dugong (Thorne 1876; Jack son et al 2001) and the proliferation of turtle were also remarked on. Was this just some kind of coincidence or was there an Indigenous system in place that actively contributed to the sustainability of this resource?