Holocene demographic changes and the emergence of complex societies in prehistoric Australia

Williams, Alan N., Ulm, Sean, Turney, Chris S.M., Rohde, David, and White, Gentry (2015) Holocene demographic changes and the emergence of complex societies in prehistoric Australia. PLoS ONE, 10 (6). e0128661. pp. 1-17.

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Abstract

A continental-scale model of Holocene Australian hunter-gatherer demography and mobility is generated using radiocarbon data and geospatial techniques. Results show a delayed expansion and settlement of much of Australia following the termination of the late Pleistocene until after 9,000 years ago (or 9ka). The onset of the Holocene climatic optimum (9-6ka) coincides with rapid expansion, growth and establishment of regional populations across ~75% of Australia, including much of the arid zone. This diffusion from isolated Pleistocene refugia provides a mechanism for the synchronous spread of pan-continental archaeological and linguistic attributes at this time (e.g. Pama-Nyungan language, Panaramitee art style, backed artefacts). We argue longer patch residence times were possible at the end of the optimum, resulting in a shift to more sedentary lifestyles and establishment of low-level food production in some parts of the continent. The onset of El Niño - Southern Oscillation (ENSO; 4.5-2ka) restricted low-level food production, and resulted in population fragmentation, abandonment of marginal areas, and reduction in ranging territory of ~26%. Importantly, climate amelioration brought about by more pervasive La Niña conditions (post-2ka), resulted in an intensification of the mobility strategies and technological innovations that were developed in the early- to mid-Holocene. These changes resulted in population expansion and utilization of the entire continent. We propose that it was under these demographically packed conditions that the complex social and religious societies observed at colonial contact were formed.

Item ID: 39227
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1932-6203
Keywords: Aboriginal Australian demography; optimal foraging strategies; geospatial analysis; Holocene climate change; radiocarbon ages and modeling
Additional Information:

© 2015 Williams et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC Future Fellowship project number FT120100656, ARC Discovery Projects funding scheme project number DP120103179, ARC Discovery Projects funding scheme project number DP130100334, ARC Laureate Fellowship project number FL100100195
Research Data: http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/austarch_na_2014/
Date Deposited: 17 Jun 2015 23:27
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Archaeology @ 70%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210102 Archaeological Science @ 30%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 100%
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