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Australian Aboriginals and Ice Age

How Aboriginal Australians Survived the Last Ice Age

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A new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science has investigated how Aboriginal Australians managed to survive during the last Ice Age 20,000 years ago in which they would have had to endure severe weather conditions.

The period which scientists call the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) is believed to be the most significant climatic event ever faced by Aboriginals of Australia – lakes dried up, forests disappeared, deserts expanded, animals went extinct, rainfall was dramatically reduced, sea levels fell more than 120 metres, and the average temperature dropped by about 10 degrees.  According to Professor Sean Ulm from James Cook University in Cairns, vast areas of the Australian land mass would have been completely uninhabitable.

The study aimed to determine how the indigenous people of Australia survived in these extreme conditions by  using advanced geospatial techniques to analyse archaeological radiocarbon dates across Australia. They found that during times of high climatic stress, human populations contracted into localized environmental ‘refuges’, in well-watered ranges and along major riverine systems, where water and food supplies were reliable.

"As much as 80 per cent of Australia was temporarily abandoned by Aboriginal people at the height of the LGM, when conditions were at their worst," said Alan Williams from the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University

According to Williams, surviving the last ice age required Aboriginal communities to make significant changes to their way of life including changes in settlement and subsistence patterns, changes to hunting practices, to the types of food that were eaten and the types of tools they were using.

It is assumed that the dramatic changes would have also had huge impacts on social relationships and religious beliefs, however, this is much harder to determine through archaeological research.

By April Holloway

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