Humans, water, and the colonization of Australia

Bird, Michael I., O'Grady, Damien, and Ulm, Sean (2016) Humans, water, and the colonization of Australia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113 (41). pp. 11477-11482.

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Abstract

The Pleistocene global dispersal of modern humans required the transit of arid and semiarid regions where the distribution of potable water provided a primary constraint on dispersal pathways. Here, we provide a spatially explicit continental-scale assessment of the opportunities for Pleistocene human occupation of Australia, the driest inhabited continent on Earth. We establish the location and connectedness of persistent water in the landscape using the Australian Water Observations from Space dataset combined with the distribution of small permanent water bodies (springs, gnammas, native wells, waterholes, and rockholes). Results demonstrate a high degree of directed landscape connectivity during wet periods and a high density of permanent water points widely but unevenly distributed across the continental interior. A connected network representing the least-cost distance between water bodies and graded according to terrain cost shows that 84% of archaeological sites >30,000 y old are within 20 km of modern permanent water. We further show that multiple, well-watered routes into the semiarid and arid continental interior were available throughout the period of early human occupation. Depletion of high-ranked resources over time in these paleohydrological corridors potentially drove a wave of dispersal farther along well-watered routes to patches with higher foraging returns.

Item ID: 45869
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: Sahul; Pleistocene colonisation; radiocarbon; human dispersal; palaeohydrological corridor
ISSN: 1091-6490
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC Laureate Fellowship FL140100044, ARC Future Fellowship FT120100656
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2016 23:35
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Archaeology @ 50%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210102 Archaeological Science @ 50%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 100%
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