Archaeologies of Austral: Australian Identities from the Pleistocene to the Anthropocene

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Abstract

Most Australians are unaware of the deep Pleistocene human history of their continent. Coining the phrase “archaeologies of austral” to refer to the deep time histories of a changing southern continent, this article challenges present assumptions about “Australia” and its identity. It considers archaeology’s contribution towards understanding Australian identity, as a form of translation incorporating Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledges. It starts with the continent’s oldest known rock art painting—fittingly, of a kangaroo—and then broadens its focus to position the familiar shape of Australia as a geofact of the last 6,000 years. Placing the kangaroo painting within its environmental and human contexts shows how rock art functioned as a means to manage social and environmental change by making, maintaining and sometimes changing human–human and human–world relationships. This work reveals ambiguities in archaeological narratives of “deep histories”, such as reifying things, dates and people, which in Indigenous traditions are fluid and omni-temporal. An archaeological perspective may challenge shallower histories of Australia and
reveal much longer processes of identity-making that enhance our understanding in the present. It also explores legacies in the present, and how socially engaged archaeological research may continue to be useful in the Anthropocene.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152 - 164
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Australian Studies
Volume45
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

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