Saturday, November 05, 2016

Mulvaney, Warratyi and the lengthening Aboriginal occupation of Sahul, prehistoric Australia

My main post today is on the New England History blog, Reflections on the life of John Mulvaney. It's a long post, a bit over 3,600 words. Its also a bit of a pastiche from other sources. I have given the sources at the end, so you will be able to see this. One of the most interesting sources is the 2000 Cambridge interview.

John overlapped two very different if linked periods of my life. The first was my undergraduate studies when I wanted to become an Australian archaeologist and prehistorian. That was an exciting time.

Events took me in different directions. I returned much later when I started on that endurance journey, writing a full history of New England over 50,000 years.

This map shows the Pleistocene coasts of Sahul with the sea 60 meters below current levels. The Pleistocene was a period of repeated glacial ages during which sea levels fell and then rose again; 60 meters below current levels was the average across the whole period.

The map comes from an ABC news story Oldest known evidence of Aboriginal settlement in arid Australia found in Flinders Ranges rock shelter. The story reports on an archaeological dig in the Flinders ranges published in Nature.

Known now as as Warratyi, the site, shows Aboriginal Australians settled the arid interior of the country around 49,000 years ago — some 10,000 years earlier than previously thought. It also shows mega-faunal remains suggesting clearly that the Aborigines did indeed both coexist with and eat Australia's mega-fauna. A previous site suggesting this, the New England site of Cuddie Springs, was much disputed. The site also shows the use of sophisticated technology much earlier than previously realised.

Warratyi then was much better watered than now. The desertification that was to come with the Late Glacial Maximum lay thousands of years ahead.

I'm not sure how far we can push back the absolute date of Aboriginal occupation of the continent,  there is an absolute limit set by the out of Africa event, but I don't think that matters. The point is that we have established a long period of existence on Sahul, the present Australian continent, that can hopefully be deepened with further discoveries.  .

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