Oral histories of Indigenous Australians pass down to almost 10000 years

  • September 22, 2015
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Oral histories of Indigenous Australians pass down to almost 10000 years


Indigenous Australians pass down stories that recall up to almost 10,000 years of history-and accurately, in at least some respects, a study concludes.

These oral histories describe changes in the Australian coastline that actually occurred, due to rising sea levels, according to the researchers.

“Anything that goes back thousands of years nearly 10,000 years in some cases has to be quite exceptional,” said Patrick Nunn, co-author of a report on the findings. He said he doesn't know of other cultures whose oral histories cover such long time periods.

“It's a remarkable time period when we consider our own memories and what we can remember even with the aid of books and other information,” added Nunn, a geographer at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia.

The findings are published in the academic journal Australian Geographer. Nunn and co-author Nick Reid, a linguist at the University of New England in Maine, describe Aboriginal stories from 21 places around Australia's coastline, each speaking of a time when sea levels were a good deal lower than today.

Nunn said present sea levels in Australia were reached 7,000 years ago, so any stories about the coastline stretching much further out to sea had to be older.

“These stories talk about a time when the sea started to come in and cover the land, and the changes this brought about to the way people lived the changes in landscape, the ecosystem and the disruption this caused to their society,” he said. “It's not just one story that describes this process. There are many stories, all consistent in their narrative, across 21 diverse sites around Australia's coastline.”

“I believe these stories endured that long partly due to the harshness of Australia's natural environment, which meant that each generation had to pass on knowledge to the next in a systematic way to ensure its survival.”

Nunn said he became interested in how stories met science during a long tenure at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.

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