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.”
- "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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