Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Reaching Australia’s Ancient Refugia

painted rock shelters

Australia’s first peoples have painted rock shelters like these for at least 35,000 years, though this activity was discontinued during the stresses of the LGM. Photo: P.S.C. Taçon with permission of Ronald Lamilami and the Aboriginal people of the Namunidjbuk Estate, Wellington Range, Arnhem Land.

By Michelle Langley

New research reveals how Australia’s ancient Aboriginal populations were challenged by extreme climate change between 23,000 and 12,000 years ago, and provides insights into how people may respond to dramatic climate change in the future.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The adventurous seafarers who first reached the northern shore of Sahul – the Pleistocene low sea-level landmass of New Guinea and Australia – were certainly some of humankind’s early high achievers. However, reaching this vast southern continent was not the last great challenge to be met by Australia’s first people.

Having navigated the dangers of the open sea, these first Australians were faced with an enormous landmass never before inhabited by humankind, but home to a range of unique and never-before-seen flora and fauna including rhinoceros-sized wombats, marsupial lions and giant goannas known as Megalania that weighed more than 150 kg and perhaps as much as 330 kg.

Over the next 25,000 years, humans successfully explored and exploited the entire continent. Each of the vastly different environments – from tropical coastlines to the desert heart to the alpine areas of the south-east – were penetrated and its resources extracted for food or to manufacture a wide range of tools needed for day-to-day life.

However, by around 23,000 years ago the climate, and consequently the physical environment, began to change. It became considerably cooler and much more arid. Mean annual temperatures decreased by about 10°C compared with the present, while mean annual rainfall declined by approximately 60%. Vegetation changed to more steppe-like and grassland-...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.