Phylogenesis of the Dreamtime

by David Rose. [unpaywalled version here]


The aim of this paper is to sketch some possible correlations between phases in the development of languages in Australia, and phases in the archaeological record of people in the continent. The technique is to compare Australian language groupings, at the scales of phylum, family, group, language and dialect, with events in the climatic and archaeological history of the continent. The emerging historical account is also correlated with other evidence from linguistics, anthropology and mythology, to identify four broad historical phases associated with expansions and contractions of resources and human populations. Universalist maxims about rates of language and cultural change are challenged by these data, suggesting that rates of change in Australia may have been considerably slower than rates in Europe, where such maxims originate. It is argued that this gradual change is more consistent with Aboriginal communities’ own accounts of their histories.

A continental narrative: Human settlement patterns and Australian climate change over the last 35,000 years

by Alan N. Williams, Peter Veth, Will Steffen, Sean Ulm, Chris S. M. Turney, Jessica M. Reeves, Steven J. Phipps, Mike Smith

Read the paper here. Below is the abstract:

Drawing on the recent synthesis of Australian palaeoclimate by the OZ-INTIMATE group (Reeves et al., 2013a), we consider the effects of climate systems on past human settlement patterns and inferred demography. We use 5044 radiocarbon dates from ∼1750 archaeological sites to develop regional time-series curves for different regions defined in the OZ-INTIMATE compilation as the temperate, tropics, interior and Southern Ocean sectors to explore human–climate relationships in Australia over the last 35,000 years. Correlations undertaken with improved palaeoclimatic data and archaeological records indicate that the regional time-series curves are robust, and can be used as a proxy for human behaviour. However, interrogation of the datasets is essential with artificial peaks and taphonomic over-correction being critical considerations. The time-series curves are interpreted as reflecting population growth, stasis and even decline in phase with terminal Pleistocene/early Holocene climatic fluctuations. This coupling, however, decreases during the last 5000 years, most likely due to increased population levels, greater territoriality, technological solutions to stress, and social and ideational innovation. Curves from all sectors show exponential population growth over the last 5000 years. We identify future research priorities, highlighting the paucity of archaeological records across several parts of Australia (<1 dated site/4,000 km2), especially around the fringes of the arid zone, and the need for improved taphonomic correction techniques. Finally, we discuss how these time-series curves represent a first-order framework, not dissimilar to global climate models, which researchers can continue to test and refine with local, regional and continental records.

Continental Aridification

Interesting paper on Pleistocene climate change in Central Australia.

Continental aridification and the vanishing of Australia’s megalakes

  1. Tim J. Cohen1,2,
  2. Gerald C. Nanson2,
  3. John D. Jansen3,
  4. Brian G. Jones2,
  5. Zenobia Jacobs2,
  6. Pauline Treble4,
  7. David M. Price2,
  8. Jan-Hendrik May2,
  9. Andrew M. Smith4,
  10. Linda K. Ayliffe5 and
  11. John C. Hellstrom6

+Author Affiliations

  1. 1Department of Environment and Geography, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia

  2. 2GeoQuEST Research Centre–School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia

  3. 3School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

  4. 4Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Lucas Heights, NSW 2234, Australia

  5. 5Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia

  6. 6School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia


The nature of the Australian climate at about the time of rapid megafaunal extinctions and humans arriving in Australia is poorly understood and is an important element in the contentious debate as to whether humans or climate caused the extinctions. Here we present a new paleoshoreline chronology that extends over the past 100 k.y. for Lake Mega-Frome, the coalescence of Lakes Frome, Blanche, Callabonna and Gregory, in the southern latitudes of central Australia. We show that Lake Mega-Frome was connected for the last time to adjacent Lake Eyre at 50–47 ka, forming the largest remaining interconnected system of paleolakes on the Australian continent. The final disconnection and a progressive drop in the level of Lake Mega-Frome represents a major climate shift to aridification that coincided with the arrival of humans and the demise of the megafauna. The supply of moisture to the Australian continent at various times in the Quaternary has commonly been ascribed to an enhanced monsoon. This study, in combination with other paleoclimate data, provides reliable evidence for periods of enhanced tropical and enhanced Southern Ocean sources of water filling these lakes at different times during the last full glacial cycle.

Prehistory and Internal Relationships of Australian Languages

Patrick McConvell and Claire Bowern


Australian linguistic prehistory has lagged behind equivalent endeavours on other continents in part because of the dearth of grammars and dictionaries until recent times, when there has been a great deal of high quality work done. Australianist linguists have tended not to use the standard comparative method. In some cases, this was because it was prematurely judged inapplicable in Australia, due to supposed very high levels of diffusion, which did not allow cognates to be distinguished from loans. This view is losing ground as more solid reconstruction work is being done on the Pama-Nyungan family, Pama-Nyungan subgroups and Non-Pama-Nyungan families. As these results accumulate, together with studies of the linguistic stratigraphy of loanwords, they provide a more solid basis for hypotheses about the sociocultural and environmental prehistory that can then be tested against the results of other disciplines. Gradually a more detailed picture is emerging of an eventful and dynamic last 10,000 years; linguistic evidence is crucial here. This is challenging the former view of relative stasis and equilibrium after the initial human colonisation 40,000–50,000 years ago.

Mortality, Mourning and Mortuary

Mortality, Mourning and Mortuary Practices in Indigenous Australia,

Edited by Katie Glaskin, University of Western Australia, Australia, Myrna Tonkinson, University of Western Australia, Australia, Yasmine Musharbash, University of Western Australia, Australia and Victoria Burbank University of Western Australia, Australia

Contents: Series Editors’ Preface: The transformative processes of life and death, Andrew Strathern and Pamela J. Stewart; Introduction: indigenous ways of death in Australia, Victoria Burbank, Katie Glaskin, Yasmine Musharbash and Myrna Tonkinson; ‘Sorry business is Yapa way’: Warlpiri mortuary rituals as embodied practice, Yasmine Musharbash; Solidarity in shared loss: death-related observances among the Martu of the Western desert, Myrna Tonkinson; Death and health: the resilience of ‘sorry business’ in the Kutjungka region of Western Australia, Brian F. McCoy; Time wounds: death, grieving and grievance in the Northern Kimberley, Anthony Redmond; A personal reflection on a Saltwater man and the cumulative effects of loss, Katie Glaskin; Social death and disenfranchised grief: an Alyawarr case study, Craig Elliott; ‘Promise me you’ll come to my funeral’: putting a value on Wiradjuri life through death, Gaynor Macdonald; Death, family and disrespect in a Northern Queensland town, Sally Babidge; A place to rest: dying, residence, and community stability in remote Arnhem Land, Marcus Barber; A life in words: history and society in Saibai Island (Torres Strait) tombstones, Richard Davis; ‘We don’t want to chase’ em away’: hauntology in central Cape York peninsula, Benjamin Richard Smith; Afterword: demography and destiny, Frances Morphy and Howard Morphy; Glossary; Index.