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Australian Aboriginal Traditions about Coastal Change Reconciled with Postglacial Sea-Level History: A First Synthesis

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Like some other oral traditions of Australian Aborigines, those that relate to widespread and enduring coastal inundation appear to be several thousand years old. The best-documented traditions, some mythologised, are presented for six sites around the Australian coast (Bathurst and Melville Islands, Northern Territory; Rottnest, Carnac and Garden Islands, Western Australia; Spencer Gulf, South Australia; Kangaroo Island, South Australia; Port Phillip Bay, Victoria; Cairns and Fitzroy Island, Queensland). The minimum depths at which each tradition would have been true is determined from local bathymetry. These depths are then compared to postglacial sea-level history and minimum ages for each tradition calculated. These range from 7,500-13,400 years Before Present and represent unique observations of postglacial sea-level rise and its effects that have significant implications for an appreciation of the longevity of such traditions in preliterate societies.
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Keywords: Australia; Oral traditions; environmental change; myth; sea level

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • Environment and History is an interdisciplinary journal which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together, with the deliberate intention of constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems.

    Environment and History has a Journal Impact Factor (2018) of 0.800. 5 Year Impact Factor: 0.918.
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