Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How aboriginal Australians coped with the last ice age

Date:
September 23, 2013
Source:
James Cook University
Summary:
While we grapple with the impact of climate change, archaeologists suggest we spare a thought for Aboriginal Australians who had to cope with the last ice age.

While we grapple with the impact of climate change, archaeologists suggest we spare a thought for Aboriginal Australians who had to cope with the last ice age.

"The period scientists call the Last Glacial Maximum, or LGM for short, is the most significant climatic event ever faced by humans on this continent," Associate Professor Sean Ulm from James Cook University in Cairns said.

Research recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science sheds new light on the ways Aboriginal civilisation met the challenges of extreme climate change during the Last Glacial Maximum, which peaked around 20,000 years ago.

"The magnitude of change was phenomenal," said Professor Ulm, a lead researcher on the project and Deputy Director of JCU's Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science.

"Lakes dried up, forests disappeared, deserts expanded, animals went extinct and vast swathes of the Australian land mass would have been simply uninhabitable."

Annual temperatures plummeted by as much as 10 degrees below present-day levels, with massive reductions in rainfall. Glaciers appeared in the Snowy Mountains and Tasmania.

"This was a time of massive change," Professor Ulm said. "Sea levels fell more than 120 metres during the LGM, exposing much of the continental shelf and connecting mainland Australia to Papua New Guinea and Tasmania."

Australian researchers from James Cook University, the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales teamed up with colleagues from Oxford University in the United Kingdom and Simon Fraser University in Canada to use advanced geospatial techniques to analyse archaeological radiocarbon dates from across Australia.

"We are trying to understand how people responded to these extreme conditions," Professor Ulm said.

The researchers found that during times of high climatic stress, human populations contracted into localised environmental 'refuges', in well-watered ranges and along major riverine systems, where water and food supplies were reliable.

Co-leader of the study, Alan Williams from the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University, said surviving the last ice age required Aboriginal communities to adapt to massive change.

"As much as 80 per cent of Australia was temporarily abandoned by Aboriginal people at the height of the LGM, when conditions were at their worst," he said.

"Along Australia's east coast, people contracted to refuge areas with good water supplies - most likely the result of increased summer snow melt coming off mountain ranges like the Victorian Alps, or glacier-fed river systems such as those of the central highlands of Tasmania."

Professor Ulm said that while those better-watered areas would have provided more reliable resources, Aboriginal people needed to make significant changes to their way of life in order to survive.

"The archaeological evidence reflects major changes in settlement and subsistence patterns at this time," he said.

"Many previously occupied areas were abandoned.

"There were changes to hunting practices, the types of food people were eating, and the technologies they were using, to deal with new circumstances.

"We expect there would have been huge impacts on social relationships and religious beliefs as well, but these types of changes are much harder to detect in the archaeological record.

"One thing we can say for sure is that extreme climate change results in the fundamental social and economic reorganisation of society.

"This was certainly true in the past and will be true in the future."

The research is published in the December issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by James Cook University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Alan N. Williams, Sean Ulm, Andrew R. Cook, Michelle C. Langley, Mark Collard. Human refugia in Australia during the Last Glacial Maximum and Terminal Pleistocene: a geospatial analysis of the 25–12ka Australian archaeological record. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2013; 40 (12): 4612 DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.06.015

Cite This Page:

James Cook University. "How aboriginal Australians coped with the last ice age." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130923093122.htm>.
James Cook University. (2013, September 23). How aboriginal Australians coped with the last ice age. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130923093122.htm
James Cook University. "How aboriginal Australians coped with the last ice age." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130923093122.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

AP (July 28, 2014) AP Investigation: As the Obama administration weans the country off dirty fuels, energy companies are ramping-up overseas coal exports at a heavy price. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Trees Could Save More Than 850 Lives Each Year

Trees Could Save More Than 850 Lives Each Year

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A national study conducted by the USDA Forest Service found that trees collectively save more than 850 lives on an annual basis. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins