The stories of Aboriginal people hold clues on the sea-level rise 7 000 years ago


The researchers from Sunshine Coast University (SCU) and the University of New England (UNE), Australia have discovered that the Aboriginal people keep the oral tradition story passed on for generations about the sea-level rise dating back to over 7 000 years ago. The new discovery was published in the Australian Geographer on September 7, 2015.

The published finding will probably trigger a series of discussions, as scholars of oral traditions have long been skeptical about the credibility of oral stories. A high degree of doubt exists as to whereas the stories told could be sustained in a recognizable form more than 800 years of the original occurrence.

On the other side, the researches Patrick Nunn, a marine geographer, and Associate Professor Nicholas Reid, a UNE linguist, have provided strong evidence that consistent stories of Aboriginal people date back to over 7 000 years ago.

“Firstly it is important to understand the changes in sea levels. 20 000 years ago the sea level was 120 meters (0.07 miles) lower than it is today. Between about 18 000 and 7 000 years ago, the sea rose, inundating the continental shelf and reducing the land mass on which Aboriginal people were then living," Prof Reid said.

“The timing of this process is well understood and marine geographers can look at a particular geographical feature, such as Spencer’s Gulf in South Australia, and understand that it was once a dry valley that was breached between 12 500 and 11 000 years ago when the sea was 50 m (0.03 miles) lower than today.”

This independently established chronology has been used to reexamine 21 stories that Australian Aboriginal groups tell of a time when the former coastline of mainland Australia was flooded by rising sea level

“Importantly these stories come from every part of the Australian coastline, and they are similar in direction – all talk of sea level rise and the loss of land, none go the other way and tell of land acquired through sea level fall,” Prof Reid added.

“In most instances it is plausible to assume that these stories refer to events that occurred more than about 7 000 years ago, the approximate time at which sea level reached its present level around Australia. They therefore provide empirical corroboration of postglacial sea-level rise.”

The research uncovered evidence that sea level rise at the time was rapid enough to significantly impact people's lives and that the occurring phenomena was certainly not only constrained to the coastal areas.

“These stories were not only retold by those directly affected, but across tribes, so stories about rising sea levels in the Great Australian Bight, for example, have become incorporated into rituals and dance performed in places over 1 000 km (621 miles) inland today.

“This project gives us a key to understand how Aboriginal cultures are distributed over time and space, and suggests cultural continuity may be evident over hitherto unimagined time depths.”

Sources: University of New England, Abstract of the paper – Australian Geographer


  • "Aboriginal Memories of Inundation of the Australian Coast Dating from More than 7 000 years ago" – Patrick D. Nunn, Nicholas J. Reid – Australian Geographer (2015) – doi:10.1080/00049182.2015.107753

Featured image: Kepten Wadity discusses sea level stories with Associate Professor Nicholas Reid at Peppimenarti in August 2015. Image credit: University of New England

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  1. if you need to know why sea levels rose 7000 yrs ago you should read a book called” When the Earth Nearly Died ” which is a brilliant piece of research and once you have digested it, you will have a much better idea about why everything you see today is the way it is.

    1. When the Earth Nearly Died nice! I watched it and seems to fit what is happening to the earth today.. more volcanic activity in the oceans would cause methan to occur. Is it man caused no! Is it caused by solar and sun activity yes!

  2. You make no effort to add value, or address topic.
    For instance;
    Massive methane releases in oceans and on land are occurring- effecting climate and eventually sea level.
    Human actions are detrimental and approaching extinction caution but determining quantification of percentage causation without bias, has not been attempted. Man is ruining the air water food land with contamination that kills. How much climate change is man’s fault is not determined. Contaminated resources may have no bearing on climate change. Ozone degeneration and methane are hand and glove. Man, cows, the earth’s natural off-gassing, no one who studies the amounts is going to be without bias payment, or “with” the tools to measure release sources correctly.
    Blaming and taxing cows is about as dumb and diabolical as funding and supporting enemies-no wonder hiller lost her emails.
    Oil and derivatives are arguably and likely, abiotic.
    Carbon tax at UN level is an assault on any nation proclaiming to contain free people- a natural topic
    progression for the effective mind and a continuation of the global theft topic addressed by “Karen”
    Sea level changes in the life cycle of earth- this article examines the obvious changes and that these changes have been talked about.
    Also, the article’s dual suggestion was that traditions could actually pass down valid information, and…., somewhat accurately.
    PS I don’t get paid to comment,…….. nor should you.
    pss Hi Karen

  3. No Karen, sea levels rose back then because some variation of sea levels in usual. The issue with global warming is that a variety of human actions are causing sea levels to rise at an almost unprecedented rate, and that could have serious negative affects on man kind. I understand what your saying about corrupt bureaucracies being detrimental to most people, but please don’t drag serious environmental issues into this.

  4. …and the sea level rise was caused by what? Let me guess, it was caused by man-made climate change?……even 7000 years ago? I wonder if world leaders made as many billion$, and used it as an excuse to try and control billions as they do now?

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