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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Australian Aboriginal Traditions about Coastal Change Reconciled with Postglacial Sea-Level History: A First Synthesis

Patrick D. Nunn

Environment and History 22 (2016): 393-420. doi: 10.3197/096734016X14661540219311

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Like some other oral traditions of Australian Aborigines, those that relate to widespread and enduring coastal inundation appear to be several thousand years old. The best-documented traditions, some mythologised, are presented for six sites around the Australian coast (Bathurst and Melville Islands, Northern Territory; Rottnest, Carnac and Garden Islands, Western Australia; Spencer Gulf, South Australia; Kangaroo Island, South Australia; Port Phillip Bay, Victoria; Cairns and Fitzroy Island, Queensland). The minimum depths at which each tradition would have been true is determined from local bathymetry. These depths are then compared to postglacial sea-level history and minimum ages for each tradition calculated. These range from 7,500-13,400 years Before Present and represent unique observations of postglacial sea-level rise and its effects that have significant implications for an appreciation of the longevity of such traditions in preliterate societies.

KEYWORDS: Oral traditions, Australia, sea level, myth, environmental change


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