Of boats and string: the maritime colonisation of Australia

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For all of hominin history the Australian continent has been separated by at least 70 km of water from other coastlines. Its colonisation about 50,000 years ago can therefore be considered the first true hominin ‘migration’ as opposed to the ‘dispersals’ that happened before it. To the hominins that occupied Sunda before Sahul was colonised by anatomically modern people, the water crossing must have been a barrier. It has been argued that it was the capacity for complex communication associated with modern cognition that allowed this barrier to be transgressed but, why did people use this capacity to build boats and what was the legacy of the associated technology in the subsequent colonisation? The particular maritime physical environment of Wallacea must have been an important factor in this process. Fibre technology, which must have accompanied the mariners who arrived in Sahul, must have played an important role in the continent’s colonisation. This aspect of technology is often ignored in discussions about Sahul Pleistocene technology that suggest its simplicity compared to other regions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-75
JournalQuaternary International
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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