Linguistics: Aboriginal stories of post-glacial inundation
The Edge of Memory: Aboriginal stories of post-glacial inundation of the Australian coast
A/Prof Nicholas Reid University of New England
Can the oral traditions of preliterate peoples tell us anything factual about the distant past? Definitions of oral tradition, especially those that view it in contrast with written history, typically portray it as fraught with problems of accuracy:
As a general rule, unwritten legends that refer to events more than 1,000 years in the past contain little, if any, historical truth. (Simic 2000)
At the last Glacial Maximum about 22,000 BP, the sea level was about 120 metres lower than present, rising to current levels about 7,000 BP, and remaining fairly static since then. Changes in sea-levels around the Australian coast, from the late-Pleistocene through to the early-Holocene, are now well enough established that marine geographers can point to specific parts of the Australian coast and say, e.g., “the sea here was 45 metres lower than present levels at 8,500 BP”.
This knowledge provides a fixed chronology against which Australian Aboriginal stories about sea-level change can be interpreted and timed. This talk discusses a substantial body of Australian Aboriginal stories which, if taken as describing factual sea level rise, appear to describe events falling between 13,000 and 7,000 years BP, demanding a rethink of the ways in which such traditions have previously been dismissed..
Rogers Room N397
John Woolley Bldg. A20