From small holes to grand narratives: the impact of taphonomy and sample size on the modernity debate in Australia and New Guinea

Langley, Michelle C., Clarkson, Christopher, and Ulm, Sean (2011) From small holes to grand narratives: the impact of taphonomy and sample size on the modernity debate in Australia and New Guinea. Journal of Human Evolution, 61 (2). pp. 197-208.

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Abstract

Our knowledge of early Australasian societies has significantly expanded in recent decades with more than 220 Pleistocene sites reported from a range of environmental zones and depositional contexts. The uniqueness of this dataset has played an increasingly important role in global debates about the origins and expression of complex behaviour among early modern human populations. Nevertheless, discussions of Pleistocene behaviour and cultural innovation are yet to adequately consider the effects of taphonomy and archaeological sampling on the nature and representativeness of the record. Here, we investigate the effects of preservation and sampling on the archaeological record of Sahul, and explore the implications for understanding early cultural diversity and complexity. We find no evidence to support the view that Pleistocene populations of Sahul lacked cognitive modernity or cultural complexity. Instead, we argue that differences in the nature of early modern human populations across the globe were more likely the consequence of differences in population size and density, interaction and historical contingency.

Item ID: 17395
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: archaeology, Australian Indigenous archaeology, coastal and island archaeology, taphonomy, Sahul, Pleistocene, behavioural modernity, site formation, cultural complexity
ISSN: 1095-8606
Date Deposited: 05 Jul 2011 02:49
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Archaeology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 100%
Citation Count from Web of Science Web of Science 2
Downloads: Total: 2
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