Research: Australian Aboriginals showed adaptability in last ice age

Sept. 23, 2013 at 4:08 PM
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CAIRNS, Australia, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- The last ice age required Aboriginal Australians to concentrate in areas with good food and water supplies, abandoning most of the continent, researchers said.

Research recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science offers new information on the ways Aboriginal Australians met the challenges of extreme climate change during the Last Glacial Maximum, which peaked 20,000 years ago, the James Cook University said Sunday in a release.

"We are trying to understand how people responded to these extreme conditions," Sean Ulm, an associate professor at James Cook University, said.

"The magnitude of change was phenomenal," Ulm, a lead researcher on the project and deputy director of university's Center for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, said. "Lakes dried up, forests disappeared, deserts expanded, animals went extinct and vast swaths of the Australian land mass would have been simply uninhabitable."

Co-leader of the study, Alan Williams from the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University, said surviving the last ice age required Aboriginal communities to adapt to massive change.

"As much as 80 percent of Australia was temporarily abandoned by Aboriginal people at the height of the [ice age], when conditions were at their worst," he said.

Williams said Aboriginals were forced to change their hunting practices, the types of food eaten and technologies they were using to deal with new circumstances.

"We expect there would have been huge impacts on social relationships and religious beliefs as well, but these types of changes are much harder to detect in the archaeological record," he said. "One thing we can say for sure is that extreme climate change results in the fundamental social and economic reorganization of society."

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