The Australian Transition: Real and Perceived Boundaries
Frankel, David, Antiquity
The Pleistocene to Holocene transition is both a reality of climate history, and a notion of the prehistorian. A century of approaches to Australian archeology guides the frameworks of the issue today.
Over the last 20 to 30 years several major issues have consistently been identified as key to Australian archaeology (Table 1). Most of these, as Horton (1991: 349) has noted, are old themes with 'no new questions but rather considerable refinements of the old questions, based on improved techniques and a rapidly expanding body of knowledge'. They reveal strong continuities in Australian research, some of which go back to the 19th century. At the head of almost every list are questions of origins, antiquity and early adaptations to different environments.
Table 1. Summary lists of issues in Australian archaeology deemed significant since 1961. 1961 (Mulvaney 1963: 34-6) Social and anthropological Antiquity Migration routes and dispersal Tasmanian origins and antiquity Human biology and palaeopathology Cultural adaptation and inventiveness in the new environment Cultural succession in all areas Origin and development of art (chronology and regionalism) History of later diffused techniques Technology (and ethnoarchaeology of technology) Trade, exchange, social relationships Associated research in Indonesia, Melanesia and beyond Environmental significance Prehistoric climate, vegetation and human impact on ecology Faunal history, megafaunal extinctions Date of introduction of the dingo Human responses to volcanic activity 1968 (Anon 1968) Current Antiquity of man Tool typology and distribution Man's exploitation of his environment: mobility, seasonality Origin of Tasmanian and Australian Aborigines Macassan contacts Historical archaeology Rock-art documentation and explanation Melanesia: agricultural origins, exchange systems Future directions Interdisciplinary work Ethnoarchaeology Method and theory of hunter-gatherer research Computer applications 1975 (Lampert 1975) Culture history and technological succession Man and land: environmental adaptations, megafaunal extinctions, demography and subsistence Ethnography and archaeology Human palaeontology 1991 (Horton 1991: 349-52) Evolution (unity and diversity of Aboriginal populations) Age of occupation Colonization Megafaunal extinctions Tasmania - settlement and change Stone tools, the small tool tradition and other recent innovations Environments and human impact 1991 (Frankel 1991: 26) Time of first arrival Variation in physical form of early populations Colonization and adaptation to different environments Regional comparisons Changing population densities in different areas Changes in the environment Impact of the environment on society, economy and technology Intensification, 4000 years ago Comparison of past and present Aboriginal societies
First fundamentals in Australian
The 19th-century recognition of the Pleistocene antiquity of people in Europe was closely bound up both with developments in geology and the new Darwinian biology, and with parallel views of other cultures. In the Old World the geological divide between the Ice Ages and the Recent provided a natural division for human history. The initial demonstration of great antiquity was a result of the acceptance of the co-occurrence of stone tools and the bones of extinct animals from Pleistocene geological contexts. These artefacts were readily recognized as those of simpler - Stone Age - technologies, perhaps the products of less developed types of people. In contrast, later, post-Pleistocene, material was seen as the work of agricultural Modern Man. The geological or climatic division became inextricably associated with biological, social and technological transformations, even when not used as a formal element in explanations of change. …