18,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, when sea level was about 120 metres below its present level, land ice started melting and sea level began rising, a process that ended some 6000 years ago around Australia. Postglacial sea-level rise transformed the coastline of this island continent, permanently inundating vast expanses of the continental shelf and severing the mainland from New Guinea, Tasmania and countless of today’s offshore islands. The drowning of Australia’s coast affected the ways in which its inhabitants – the Aboriginal peoples who arrived there 50-60,000 years ago – lived, principally by submerging lands on which they had previously lived.
The changes to the geography of coastal Australia wrought by postglacial sea-level rise were so noticeable that its inhabitants created stories – both mythical and narrative – that described the observed changes for posterity. Owing to the remarkable effectiveness of trans-generational storytelling in Aboriginal cultures, some of these stories have survived for millennia to reach us today.
Reid and Nunn have collected extant stories of coastal drowning from 21 locations around the coast of Australia. Using information about where sea level stood (relative to today) in the past, it is possible to assign age ranges to each story. Most stories are believed to date from at least 7000 years ago, making them remarkable for both their antiquity and the cultural continuity that their survival until today requires.
A few similar stories are known from some other parts of the world, including northwest Europe and India but most have been dismissed by most scientists as wholly fictional. Given the likely age of the Australian stories, the earliest of which might be 12,000 years old, it is worthwhile re-evaluating possible evidence of human memories of ancient coastal drowning elsewhere in the world.When
Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 6:00 pm
Elisabeth Murdoch Theatre A, Elisabeth Murdoch , Spencer Road