Yam landscapes: the biogeography and social life of Australian Dioscorea



Publication Details

Atchison, J. & Head, L. (2012). Yam landscapes: the biogeography and social life of Australian Dioscorea. Artefact: Pacific rim archaeology, 35 59-74.

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The Artefact


Yams have been at the centre of key archaeological and anthropological debates, particularly as a starchy staple food. While yams have many features of relevance to both hunter-gatherer and agricultural lives, there is considerable geographic, ecological and social variability in their use and cultural signifi cance. In the spirit of celebrating Beth Gott's historically and ecologically grounded approach to ethnobotanical research, we review the Australian biogeography of Dioscorea as well as the ethnography of yam use by Aboriginal people. Three themes emerge from this review of the literature: 1) geographic variability of yam species across the continent has important consequences for the scale and intensity of Aboriginal collection and landscape transformation, 2) gender, particularly the role of women as harvesters, figures as an important cultural dimension in yam biology, and 3) landscape knowledge, connection to country and memory are significant factors contributing to food supply and regulation.

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