Past Aboriginal populations and demographic change using radiocarbon data and time-series analysis

Williams, Alan N., Ulm, Sean, and Smith, Mike (2022) Past Aboriginal populations and demographic change using radiocarbon data and time-series analysis. In: McNiven, Ian J., and David, Bruno, (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Indigenous Australia and New Guinea. Oxford Handbooks Online . Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.

[img] PDF (Published Version) - Published Version
Restricted to Repository staff only

[img] PDF (Accepted Publisher Version) - Accepted Version
Restricted to Repository staff only

View at Publisher Website:


The use of radiocarbon data as a proxy for past human demography has become common in many parts of the world with increasingly sophisticated techniques developed in the last decade. Australian archaeologists have been at the forefront of this research. Using this technique, the authors show that at a continent scale Aboriginal population remained low—in the tens of thousands—throughout the Pleistocene, followed by a stepwise growth in the last 10,000 years, and culminating at ~1.15 million in the Late Holocene. The Last Glacial Maximum resulted in significant disruption to populations, with recent evidence suggesting a prolonged recovery from the event, hindered by sea-level change through the terminal Pleistocene. This chapter hypothesises that increasing population during the Early Holocene, along with environmental packing from a reducing landmass, established the conditions contributing to the complex societies observed later in the Holocene and up to the ethnographic period. While radiocarbon approaches to exploring demography have been subject to frequent criticism, virtually all are explicitly addressed in sophisticated applications of the approach, and the authors’ findings continue to be proven robust as more archaeological data becomes available. For instance, the authors’ demonstration that initial seeding population at ~50,000 years ago was ~1000–3000 people and likely involved a deliberate act of exploration has been validated by a plethora of recent studies. The authors suggest a number of temporal and spatial areas that should form the focus of further archaeological research to fill in current knowledge gaps.

Item ID: 75281
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 978-0-19-009561-1
Keywords: past demography, radiocarbon data, time-series analysis, human–climate interactions, terminal Pleistocene
Copyright Information: © Oxford University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CE170100015)
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2022 22:59
FoR Codes: 43 HISTORY, HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 4301 Archaeology > 430101 Archaeological science @ 50%
45 INDIGENOUS STUDIES > 4501 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, language and history > 450101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander archaeology @ 50%
SEO Codes: 13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1307 Understanding past societies > 130703 Understanding Australia’s past @ 100%
Downloads: Total: 2
More Statistics

Actions (Repository Staff Only)

Item Control Page Item Control Page