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Murray Islands Archaeological Project
Murray Islands Archaeological Project, 1999

'Recent archaeological investigations on Mer and Dauar Islands within the Eastern Murray Islands Group, have yielded the oldest dates for occupation within Torres Strait. These dates are in the order of 3,000 years old and they are based on a range of economic shellfish species which have been recovered from very substantial middens. These shellfish have been collected from the surrounding reef flats and it is interesting to note that the reef flats, on which very extensive stone fish traps have been built, only formed shortly before this time.

The cultural assemblages of the middens contain extensive marine shellfish and vertebrate remains including fish, turtle, dugong, rodent and dog. Of particular note is an elaborately carved bone pipe which dates to approximately 2,000 years ago. The other unexpected find is a fragment of pottery dating to approximately 1,000 years ago. It is likely that the Murray Islands have served as a trading centre between PNG and the western islands for some considerable time. It is clear that the maritime subsistence economy of the Meriam has been in place for some 3,000 years. Current research aims to evaluate the nature of sites in the interior of the islands and the likely antiquity and intensity of horticultural practices. This work is the result of collaborative research between Meriam people and Drs Bird and Bliege-Bird and Ms Jennifer Richardson (University of Arkansas), A/Professor Peter Veth and Ms Melissa Carter (James Cook University) and Dr Susan O'Connor and Mr Anthony Barham (the Australian National University).'

Keywords: archaeology, Mer, Meriam culture, Meriam history, Murray Island, 1999

Peter Veth, personal communication with Nonie Sharp, May 1999. Still: Bone Pipe, courtesy Peter Veth. May, 1999.
Author: Sharp, Nonie