Sea-level change and demography during the last glacial termination and early Holocene across the Australian continent

Williams, Alan N., Ulm, Sean, Sapienza, Tom, Lewis, Stephen, and Turney, Chris S.M. (2018) Sea-level change and demography during the last glacial termination and early Holocene across the Australian continent. Quaternary Science Reviews, 182. pp. 144-154.

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Abstract

Future changes in sea-level are projected to have significant environmental and social impacts, but we have limited understanding of comparable rates of change in the past. Using comprehensive palaeoenvironmental and archaeological datasets, we report the first quantitative model of the timing, spatial extent and pace of sea-level change in the Sahul region between 35-8 ka, and explore its effects on hunter-gatherer populations. Results show that the continental landmass (excluding New Guinea) increased to 9.80 million km2 during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), before a reduction of 2.12 million km2 (or ~21.6%) to the early Holocene (8 ka). Almost 90% of this inundation occurs during and immediately following Meltwater Pulse (MWP) 1a between 14.6 and 8 ka. The location of coastlines changed on average by 139 km between the LGM and early Holocene, with some areas >300 km, and at a rate of up to 23.7 m per year (~0.6 km land lost every 25-year generation). Spatially, inundation was highly variable, with greatest impacts across the northern half of Australia, while large parts of the east, south and west coastal margins were relatively unaffected. Hunter-gatherer populations remained low throughout (<30,000), but following MWP1a, increasing archaeological use of the landscape, comparable to a four-fold increase in populations, and indicative of large-scale migration away from inundated regions (notably the Bass Strait) are evident. Increasing population density resulting from MWP1a (from 1/655 km2 to 1/71 km2) may be implicated in the development of large and complex societies later in the Holocene. Our data support the hypothesis that late Pleistocene coastal populations were low, with use of coastal resources embedded in broad-ranging foraging strategies, and which would have been severely disrupted in some regions and at some time periods by sea-level change outpacing tolerances of mangals and other near-shore ecological communities.

Item ID: 52001
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1873-457X
Keywords: Aboriginal Australian demography; meltwater pulse 1a; MWP1a; Sahul; coastal shelf inundation; radiocarbon ages and modelling; sea-level change
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC Future Fellowship FT120100656, ARC Discovery Project DP120103179, ARC Discovery Project DP130100334, ARC Discovery Project DP170100812, ARC Laureate Fellowship project number FL100100195
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2018 00:16
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 @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9603 Climate and Climate Change > 960311 Social Impacts of Climate Change and Variability @ 50%
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