The world's first mariners: savannah dwellers in an island continent

O'Connor, Sue, and Veth, Peter (2000) The world's first mariners: savannah dwellers in an island continent. In: O'Connor, S., and Veth, P., (eds.) East of Wallace's Line: Studies of past and present maritime cultures of the Indo-Pacific region. Modern Quaternary Research in Southeast Asia, 16 . AA Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands, pp. 99-40.

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[Extract] The earliest maritime colonization in the world by Homo sapiens was accomplished by people entering Greater Australia (see Fig. 1). The date at which this occurred is currently under review and getting older as the application of alternative dating methods to radiocarbon, such as OSLand ESR, push back the length of Aboriginal occupation of this island continent to a minimum of 60,000 years (Thome et al. 1999). Regardless of the route taken from Asia to the Greater Australian coast, this first maritime journey, or set of journeys, required several major water crossings of distances up to 120 km. This fact has prompted the logical view that the first Australians and any subsequent colonists, must have been mariners adapted for their livelihood 'to coastal and estuarine environments. Despite this assumption, evidence for early coastal use following colonization is non-existent; the earliest dated sites are found in inland locations in northern and southern Australia. The first evidence for use of coasts in Greater Australia is registered significantly later, at least 20,000-30,000 years after initial settlement; and even then the evidence indicates only very ephemeral use of coastal resources prior to the Holocene.

In this paper we build on the argument advanced by Chappell (this volume) that despite the fact that the first and subsequent colonizations of Greater Australia required major sea crossings and the use of watercraft, there is no evidence that the early colonists pursued a maritime economy upon arrival. Whilst submergence by current sea stand may account for the drowning of most coastal evidence, sufficient sampling points exist in the form of rock shelters located close to the continental shelf, for earlier evidence to be forthcoming if the coast was indeed occupied following initial settlement. However these sites do not register coastal occupation prior to about 35,000 years ago. Importantly, these sites would have been closer to the coast at several times (c. 45,000 and 53,000 years ago) between 60,000 years ago and the timing of their first registered use by Aboriginal people. Indeed, in some sites earliest evidence for the use of marine resources coincides with increasing aridification of the continent when they are at furthest remove from the coast. These windows on Pleistocene coastal land-use give no hint of maritime dependence but rather suggest a terrestrial resource base with the ad hoc addition of coastal-fringe resources or a generalized mixed economy. There is no evidence in the Pleistocene layers of these sites to indicate that watercraft or other elements of maritime technology continued in use after initial settlement. The coastal resources exploited were all easily procurable from the intertidal range.

Item ID: 14276
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 978-90-5809-319-6
Keywords: maritime archaeology
Date Deposited: 16 Aug 2017 00:16
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210110 Maritime Archaeology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9503 Heritage > 950302 Conserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage @ 100%
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