Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Monday, October 23, 2017

A note on the Sunghir DNA results from an Australian perspective


ANCIENT NETWORKERS  DNA from four Stone Age people — including the two shown here as they looked when excavated, top, and at the time of death, bottom — suggests that hunter-gatherers have long formed groups with few close relatives. Aside from discouraging inbreeding, that social structure encouraged cooperative ties among groups and rapid cultural advances, scientists say. 

Interesting piece in Science News by Bruce Bower, Ancient humans avoided inbreeding by networking (5 October 2017) on the results of DNA analysis of four individuals from the Sunghir site in Russia, Sunghir is situated about two hundred kilometres east of Moscow, on the outskirts of Vladimir, near the Klyazma River.

The story is based on an article that appeared in Science. If you follow the link through you can access the original article, You will need to register, but that is free. The article's abstract reads:  
Present-day hunter-gatherers (HGs) live in multilevel social groups essential to sustain a population structure characterized by limited levels of within-band relatedness and inbreeding. When these wider social networks evolved among HGs is unknown. Here, we investigate whether the contemporary HG strategy was already present in the Upper Paleolithic (UP), using complete genome sequences from Sunghir, a site dated to ~34 thousand years BP (kya) containing multiple anatomically modern human (AMH) individuals. We demonstrate that individuals at Sunghir derive from a population of small effective size, with limited kinship and levels of inbreeding similar to HG populations. Our findings suggest that UP social organization was similar to that of living HGs, with limited relatedness within residential groups embedded in a larger mating network.
Martin Sikora1, Andaine Seguin-Orlando, Vitor C. Sousa, Anders Albrechtsen, Thorfinn Korneliussen, Amy Ko, Simon Rasmussen, Isabelle Dupanloup, Philip R. Nigst, Marjolein D. Bosch, Gabriel Renaud, Morten E. Allentoft, Ashot Margaryan, Sergey V. Vasilyev, Elizaveta V. Veselovskaya, Svetlana B. Borutskaya, Thibaut Deviese, Dan Comeskey, Tom Higham, Andrea Manica, Robert Foley, David J. Meltzer, Rasmus Nielsen, Laurent Excoffier, Marta Mirazon Lahr, Ludovic Orlando, Eske Willerslev, "Ancient genomes show social and reproductive behavior of early Upper Paleolithic foragers", Science 05 Oct 2017. eaao1807, DOI: 10.1126/science.aao1807
Bruce's report focuses on what the results might show us about mating patterns among hunter gatherers (HG). I looked at the results from a slightly different perspective. First to summarise some key points as I understood them:

  • The DNA of four individuals was analysed. The remains dated from around 34,000 years ago.
  • The DNA of the three individuals buried together share both mitochondrial and Y-chromosome lineages  That is, they formed part of the same group. However, none of them were closely related (that is, third degree or closer). Third degree relationships includes first cousins, great grandparents and great grandchildren. 
  • Modelling provided a refined estimate of the time since admixture with Nenaderthals at 770 generations (95% CI 755-786). Accounting for the uncertainty of both the admixture estimate and 14C ages, this corresponds to an admixture date between the ancestors of Sunghir and Neanderthals of between 53.6 and 58.1 kya (at 29 years/generation. However, the results from one individual suggested that there could have been a more recent admixture.
.The Aborigines arrived in Australia perhaps 60-65,000 years ago. That is before the estimated admixture date between the Sunghir and Neanderthals. They too carry Neanderthal genes, although they also carry Denisovan genes, suggesting a later mixing with Denisovan peoples. So the evidence continues to suggest that we are dealing with long and overlapping periods of interaction between different hominin species.

 I am not quite sure what conclusions to draw from the DNA results so far as breeding patterns within the Sunghir group are concerned. However, it would not be surprising if they had kinship arrangements designed to prevent in-breeding.. Aboriginal kinship arrangements have that effect while also fitting people into social structures. Those arrangements probably evolved with time. We cannot assume that those holding among Aboriginal people at the time of European occupation were the same as those holding 65,000 years before.

Too a degree, too, this type of arrangement depends upon population size. In-breeding is more common among smaller groups.    

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The construction of comfort: building upon the necessities of shelter


Balala Station: one of the original slab hut homesteads subsequently extended. This is the sixth in my series on New England's built landscape and architecture. 
Next post.

While the first mansions such as Dalwood House or Lake Innes House were emerging in the Hunter or at Port Macquarie, the first slab huts now being built on the New England by the European occupiers remained rough structures, quickly constructed to provide shelter and a base.

This was a male society in which comfort ranked second to the basic necessities of shelter. Even then, there were some who wanted more. Crown Land Commissioner George James Macdonald was one such.

A sometimes melancholy and in the end tragic poet, Macdonald was a neat man whose sensibilities demanded order and a degree of comfort. When in March 1843 a party travelled up from the civilisation of Port Macquarie to attend the Armidale races, one of the party (Mrs Annie Baxter) expressed surprise at the Commissioner’s hut. While small and badly finished, it was well and tastefully furnished.

As women and then children arrived over the first decade after occupation, more was required. In some cases, the original homestead was extended or incorporated into new structures.

At Balala south of Uralla, the original homestead built by George Morse and Thomas Toule in 1841 became part of a complex around a courtyard. On one side was a slab schoolroom and bedroom, on the other bedrooms built in part of basalt and granite.

In other cases, new buildings were constructed. On Ohio outside Walcha, Abraham and Mary Nivison purchased the Ohio run outside Walcha in 1842 and moved into the original slab homestead standing on the property. Nivison wanted a better home for his family and began construction of a new homestead.

The first stage was finished in 1845. It included four bedrooms, a hipped roof structure and chimneys in every room and was built of stone rubble and covered with a lime mortar render. The design and construction method drew in part from Dumfriesshire in Scotland where Abraham and Mary were born.

With increasing prosperity, the homestead was renovated in the 1850s. A new kitchen and store were added, while the roof was raised to accommodate a loft. Six dormer windows were installed which remain a distinctive feature of the home’s appearance today. .

To my knowledge, dormer windows are not a feature of colonial New England architecture. I can’t help wondering, I don’t know, whether or not Ohio’s windows influenced the later design of Armidale’s Mallam House.

I will continue this story next week looking at what was, in may ways, the golden age of New England homestead and construction design.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 11 October 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Local history stories New England media - weekly round up 2

It is actually just over two weeks since my last round-up, but I do want to maintain the weekly format if I can. Please let me know if there are stories that I have missed. That way the series builds up as a resource for all those interested in local histories within the North.You can find the whole series by clicking on local history under labels on the sidebar.

To this point I have not included my own columns in these round-ups because I post them here anyway, if with a lag. However, it does seem sensible now to include them, partly for the sake of completeness, partly because some columns run in more than one paper. Because my columns often span areas, I am including them under a new heading, broader New England.

Broader New England


Balala Station: one of the original slab hut homesteads subsequently extended to increase comfort and meet new needs.

I have continued my series on the built landscape and architecture of New England. The latest columns:are:
  • Number six in the series: The construction of comfort: building upon the necessities of shelter looks at the extension and replacement of the initial crude slab hut homesteads to increase comfort and accommodate families. 
  • Number seven in the series: A new wave of mansions (the first wave was in the Hunter and at Port Macquarie) traces the start of the second major homestaed mansion building phase begun by second generation settlers as wealth accumulated.   . 
Northern Rivers

At ABC North Coast, Kim Honan's Curious North Coast: Why were camphor laurel trees introduced in the Northern Rivers region? (4 October 2017) looks at the story of an introduced tree loved by many, loathed by others.

Newcastle and the Hunter

In The Singleton Argus, Elise Pfeiffer reports (11 October 2017) on problems facing the Singleton Museum. It's a good museum. I took the kids several times on our way north to Armidale. In an earlier story in the Argus that I had missed ( Ready for its official launch 'The Round Ball' the history of Association football in Singleton), Louise Nichols reports on the launch of a history of soccer in Singleton.

At Muswellbrook, the Muswellbrook Chronicle's Betina Hughes reports (Muswellbrook Shire Local and Family History Society launch two books for 2017 History Week, 5 September 2017)  on the launch of two local history books written by former Muswellbrook High School teacher Bruce James, Muswellbrook in Picture 1985 and an updated version of Another Walk Through the Town.

Greta Migrant Camp. Photo Maitland Mercury

In the Maitland Mercury, New England's oldest surviving newspaper (the Armidale Express is second), Lachlan Leeming's Memories of a Greta camp kid: Paul Szumilas reminisces on migrant camp childhood ahead of reunion (12 October 2017) records the memories of one of those who lived at the Greta Migrant Camp. This camp forms an important part of Australia's post war history. Lachlan's articles includes links to earlier articles that between them create a valuable picture of the camp and those who lived there for a period.

In the Newcastle Herald, Hunter valley military historian David Dial's Centenary of the Great War (4 October 2017) provides a snap shot of that war along with Hunter Valley enlistments and deaths for the period 1-7 October 1917. For those Facebook, David has a page dedicated to Hunter military history.

Western Slopes and Plains

Back on 2 July 2017, the Northern Daily Leader's Gunnedah's AgQuip celebrates 45 years in August provided an overview of the history of this iconic event. I hadn't seen it before and record in now because it is an interesting and important story that forms part of a bigger canvas.

On 12 October 2017, the Moree Champion had an advertising feature Moree Uniting Church is marking its  150th anniversary that provides a useful overview of the history of the church in Moree.

Northern Tablelands

In the Glen Innes Examiner, Eve Chappell  continues her explorations into local history:
In the Inverell Times, the history reports include:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Grand designs for early Northern NSW homes



Lake Innes House: An 1837 oil painting of Lake Innes House then at the peak of its luxury. The house is now in ruins. This is the fifth in my new series on New England's built landscape and architecture. 


European occupation came to Northern New South Wales in waves, waves that are reflected in the varying pattern of the built environment across the North.

The Hunter Valley was first occupied as a penal colony. In January 1812, a small number of convicts were allowed to take up land for farms. From 1817, further settlement was allowed, but it was not until the opening of the penal colony at Port Macquarie in 1821 and the subsequent closure of the Newcastle penal colony that Valley was opened to full European occupation.

From 1826, squatters from the Hunter Valley and Hawkesbury began to seek grazing beyond the Liverpool Plains. In 1830, the Port Macquarie area was opened for settlement, creating a new route to the Tablelands. Whereas those in the Hunter and at Port Macquarie could gain full ownership of land by grant or purchase, those inland or further north were simply squatting on the land.

By the time the New England squatters were building their first slab huts, an established built landscape had emerged further south, one that we can still see today.

The presence small farmers meant that there were smaller homesteads, while some owners began the construction of New England’s first grand homes. The remains of two very early examples survive today.
Fine example: Dalwood House south view from the river. The French doors open into a central courtyard, creating air flows. 
In 1829 in the Hunter, George Wyndham began the construction of Dalwood House, a house later memorialised in Judith Wright’s Generations of Men.

A National Trust property included in the Australian Government’s Register of the National Estate, Dalwood House is the oldest known example of an Australian house built in the Georgian Grecian style that was becoming so popular.

Probably designed by Wyndham himself, the house is built of locally quarried stone and bricks fired on the site with cedar for the fine joinery cut from trees on Edward Gostwyck Cory’s nearby Gostwyck holding on the Patterson River.

It was Cory who discovered the route over the Moonbi Range later followed by the Great North Road and then established Gostwyck, Terrible Vale and Salisbury Plains stations.

Less remains of the second grand house, Lake Innes House built by Archibald Clunes Innes near Port Macquarie using convict labour. .Construction began soon after Innes arrived back in Port Macquarie in 1830 to take up a land grant and continued over much of the next decade.

By 1840, the house had 22 rooms with an underground cistern, a bathroom, privies and a boiler for providing hot water, providing a base for the lavish entertainment and hospitality .Separate bachelor quarters, servants quarters and an estate workers village were nearby, as well as stables and various farm building.

The ruins at Lake Innes are now administered by the NSW Parks and Wild Life Service which offers guided tours. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 4 October 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Saturday, October 07, 2017

New evidence of possible early (c220,000 years ago) Neanderthal Homo Sapiens interbreeding

Interesting story in Science by Ann Gibbons (Neandertals and modern humans started mating early  Jul. 4, 2017 , 11:00 AM). The piece begins:
For almost a century, Neandertals were considered the ancestors of modern humans. But in a new plot twist in the unfolding mystery of how Neandertals were related to modern humans, it now seems that members of our lineage were among the ancestors of Neandertals. Researchers sequenced ancient DNA from the mitochondria—tiny energy factories inside cells—from a Neandertal who lived about 100,000 years ago in southwest Germany. They found that this DNA, which is inherited only from the mother, resembled that of early modern humans. 
After comparing the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) with that of other archaic and modern humans, the researchers reached a startling conclusion: A female member of the lineage that gave rise to Homo sapiens in Africa mated with a Neandertal male more than 220,000 years ago—much earlier than other known encounters between the two groups. Her children spread her genetic legacy through the Neandertal lineage, and in time her African mtDNA completely replaced the ancestral Neandertal mtDNA.
Anne's article is based on a 4 July 2017 report in Nature Communications, Deeply divergent archaic mitochondrial genome provides lower time boundary for African gene flow into Neanderthals by Cosimo Posth, Christoph Wißing, Keiko Kitagawa, Luca Pagani, Laura van Holstein, Fernando Racimo, Kurt Wehrberger, Nicholas J. Conard, Claus Joachim Kind, Hervé Bocherens and Johannes Krause.

I suggest reading Anne's piece first and then the source article. This includes some very interesting material, including methodology and qualifications.  

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Building a country landscape


Deeargee shearing shed: Designed and built in 1872 by Alexander Mitchell, this shearing shed with its tiered roof shows the influence of galvanised iron on New England building.This is the fourth in my new series on New England's built landscape and architecture 


There are may ways of classifying the built landscape. Those interested in architecture, for example, focus on architectural styles, usually setting these in a British or European or, later, American context.

While this is a useful and valid approach, I find it confusing because of the number of identified styles.

Some architectural histories, for example, list four styles for the old colonial period (1788-c1840), fifteen for the Victorian Period (c1840-c1890) and twelve for the Federation Period (c1890-c1915). This is hard to manage in a general sense, harder still when the architecture of an area has few or no examples of a style or varies from the conventional classification.

A second way of classifying the built landscape focuses on building materials and methods. Here the industrial revolution transformed building by introducing new materials and associated building technology.

Corrugated galvanised iron or steel more normally know just as corrugated iron is a feature of many parts of New England’s built landscape.

Corrugated iron was invented in the 1820s by Henry Robinson Palmer, architect and engineer for the London Dock Company. It was robust and relatively light weight. As shipping improved and then with the spread of the railways, it became almost ubiquitous in country Australia and New Zealand.

Corrugated iron was used in roofing, creating the roofing pattern you can see in many New England centres including Armidale. It was used in farm buildings, including the shearers’ quarters and woolshed that used to be an ever present feature of New England’s built landscape. Most were simple structures, although the 1872 Deeragee woolshed outside Uralla remains as a unique and spectacular example of shearing shed construction.

A third way of classifying the built landscape focuses on purpose. Why was the building created, how was this done, how did it work? This approach has been really popularised by the UK Grand Designs program with its focus on repurposing industrial buildings for new uses. while recognising their original heritage.

No approach is perfect. In this next part of our journey through New England’s built landscape I am going to take purpose as an entry point, focusing first on the homestead.

The European settlers who occupied Aboriginal lands from 1788 came with limited resources. For those who had travelled north often spending weeks sleeping under drays or canvas, the first priority was to build a base as quickly as possible, Then out huts had to be built for the shepherds or stockmen who guarded the flocks and herds.

The result was the slab hut. Nearby trees were cut and then sawed into a suitable length. These were then split into lengths using a maul and wedge. Rafters were erected on top to create a pitched roof that was covered with bark held down by weights.

The slab hut was a relatively quick and ready shelter that while draughty and uncomfortable at least provided a working base.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 27 September 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Monday, October 02, 2017

When the Diprotodon ranged New England and the Darling Downs

The Diprotodon, a three-tonne marsupial up to 1.8 metres tall and 3.5 metres long, was one of the largest animals to roam Sahul, the prehistoric continent that became Australia.

Many mysteries remain about the Australian mega-fauna including the Diprotodon.  Now a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. by a team led by Gilbert Price has revealed intriguing if brief details about the pattern of their life.

The article abstract is set out below. Further comments follow the abstract. .
Abstract 
Seasonal two-way migration is an ecological phenomenon observed in a wide range of large-bodied placental mammals, but is conspicuously absent in all modern marsupials. Most extant marsupials are typically smaller in body size in comparison to their migratory placental cousins, possibly limiting their potential to undertake long-distance seasonal migrations. But what about earlier, now-extinct giant marsupial megafauna? Here we present new geochemical analyses which show that the largest of the extinct marsupial herbivores, the enormous wombat-like Diprotodon optatum, undertook seasonal, two-way latitudinal migration in eastern Sahul (Pleistocene Australia–New Guinea). Our data infer that this giant marsupial had the potential to perform round-trip journeys of as much as 200 km annually, which is reminiscent of modern East African mammal migrations. These findings provide, to our knowledge, the first evidence for repetitive seasonal migration in any metatherian (including marsupials), living or extinct, and point to an ecological phenomenon absent from the continent since the Late Pleistocene. 
Source: Seasonal migration of marsupial megafauna in Pleistocene Sahul (Australia–New Guinea) Gilbert J. Price, Kyle J. Ferguson, Gregory E. Webb, Yue-xing Feng, Pennilyn Higgins, Ai Duc Nguyen, Jian-xin Zhao, Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Julien Louys
Proc. R. Soc. B 2017 284 20170785; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0785. Published 27 September 2017
The articlis behind the paywall. However, Dr Price provided details in a piece in The Conversation, Giant marsupials once migrated across an Australian Ice Age landscape (27 September 2017). For reasons that I will explain in a moment, I think that it is a little over-egged. But first, a methodological note.

The chemical signature of the foods that an organism eats becomes fixed into its teeth when they form. But, as Dr Price noted, it’s also true that “you are where you ate” becomes fixed, especially if you are a plant eater. The geochemistry of the soils where plants grow also becomes incorporated into a herbivore’s teeth. If that particular geochemical signal varies within a given tooth, it would imply that the individual fed across different geological regions when alive.

To study this, Dr Price and his team selected an upper incisor from a Darling Downs fossil and drilled numerous samples from the tough, crystalline outer enamel for a geochemical study. When this was subjected to chemical analysis, the results suggested that that the Diprotodon had displayed migratory tendencies, moving from north to south and back in a 200 mile range across the Darling Downs. Quite remarkable really, both in terms of the science and the results.

I said that the results were perhaps over-egged. As you will see when you read the piece, he compares this to the migratory patterns of the wildebeest, noting that it is the first time that this pattern has been established for marsupials and then extending his argument to establish a global significance for the find. The Darling Downs becomes the Serengeti of Australia.

The comparison of this with wildebeest migrations is a bit of a stretch. The distances travelled by the wildebeest dwarf 200k, while not all wildebeest are migratory. It does appears correct that marsupials do not display migration patterns as such. However, kangaroos are semi-nomadic and will move in search of food and water. The ethnographic evidence on the western slopes and plains suggests that during wet periods the Aboriginal population dispersed, concentrating around water sources during dry periods. This appears to reflect movements in the distribution of animals as well as vegetable foods and water.

The Diprotodons were very big animals who displayed herd behaviour. I would have thought that they would have to keep moving at least slowly or they would have just eaten out the the local vegetation. Over a twelve month period,. they could well have covered considerable distances. It makes sense that that movement should adopt a regular pattern, one that presumably had to take the existence of other herds into account as well as seasonal changes. The movement pattern averages a bit over a k a day if they moved 400k in a year. This doesn't rule out migratory patterns, the analysis of the teeth would appear to support that, simply that there are other explanations. It would be interesting to know how much a Diprotodon had to eat! This would tell us how soon they might out-eat a patch.

If we move from the macro-level that concerns Dr Price to a more regional and micro-level, Dr Price has given us a piece of information that we have never had before.

South of the Darling Downs, we have Diprotodon remains from Tambar Springs, Mooki River, Cox's Creek, Lime Springs, Redstone Creek and Cuddie Springs. They were clearly widely spread. The Liverpool Plains was, like the Darling Downs, an apparent hotspot. What Dr Price has done is to provide a piece of range data that may allow us to model the range distribution and behaviour of an extinct species in a particular area, the Western slopes and immediate plains. I think that's rather important.

There are also some real dating issues not well picked up in The Conversation piece. We don't have a lot of good dates. From what I know of the dates, I think the LGM marked the end, although it may have occurred earlier. Whatever the end date, it seems to me that there is now a very clear overlap between Aborigines and megafauna.

My thanks to regular commenter JohnB for inspiring this story.

Update 7 October 2017

Ian Vasey (@Ianvasey53) pointed me to this 1925 Armidale Chronicle story on the discovery of parts of a Diprotodon at Armidale. The Australian Museum piece on the animal provides a very good overview.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Local history stories New England media weekly round-up 1

Sailing ships, Stockton wharves
A week back ( Inverell Times, Glen Innes Examiner local history series) I gave an initial report on new local history writing in those two papers. I was going to report on the individual stories as they came out. However, since then I have discovered other papers also providing local history stories. I have decided that it would be more sensible  do a weekly round-up instead of individual reports.

Northern Tablelands

Starting with the Inverell Times, Robberies and Fund raising (20 September 2017) reports on the history of Wright Heaton in Inverell, while Grand day for rail and Inverell (27 September) reports on the opening of the railway line to Inverell in 1901. Both stories are by staff writers.

To the east in the Glen Innes Examiner, Eve Chappell's Plenty of history in store (26 September) outlines the history Glen Innes's first store It began as Archibald Mosman’s Furracabad Station store around 1852 or a little earlier managed by Mather and Gilchrist and then finished life as a general store in 1982 as Murdo Cameron Mackenzie and Sons.

Northern Rivers

Moving east, ABC North Coast has had three interesting pieces on the history of the Richmond Tweed area:
Mid North Coast
Moving south, in the Macleay Argus, Janine Watson's Kempsey Show | historic photos shared for all to enjoy (11 September) has an interesting historical photo gallery plus short story on the Kempsey show.

Newcastle and the Hunter Valley

Further south in the Newcastle Herald,
In passing, I found a much earlier story that I am including now because of its interest: Mike Scanlon, 18 September 2015, Barking mad tales of old, looks at the days when sail ruled the Newcastle wharves

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Aboriginal engineering in New England


Practical: The heritage-listed Brewarrina fish traps are one of the largest surviving examples of Aboriginal engineering.This is the third in my new series on New England's built landscape and architecture 

This column continues my exploration of New England’s built landscape and associated architecture looking at housing, food production and communications in Aboriginal New England.

All architecture reflects culture, social structures, purpose and the environment including climate and available resources. The Aborigines were no different.

A seasonal people, they moved across the landscape in varying size groups in response to both the availability of food and water and social and ceremonial needs. In transit, they formed camps marked by multiple small fires rather than single big blazes, thus spreading the warmth more widely across the group..

These camps might but need not contain simple shelters to provide additional comfort. These might be no more than a few sheets of bark leaning on a pole fastened a few feet up the ground with a fire in front, sited so as to block wind.

Where people remained for longer periods, more substantial structures were constructed, forming something close to villages.

On the coast, we have descriptions of these from Flinders (Clarence River 1799), Rous (Richmond River 1828), Perry (Clarence River 1839) and Lang (Port Macquarie 1847). Inland on the Western Slopes and Plains we have Cunningham (Coxs Creek 1825) and Mitchell (near the Gwydir River, 1832).

From the descriptions we have, the Tablelands’ semi-permanent shelters were simpler, reflecting lower populations, more limited resources and more frequent movement.

Those to the east and west were much more substantial. Some appeared designed to accommodate a family group, while other could accommodate up to fifteen people. The number of dwellings varied from as few as three up to perhaps twenty. .Depending on the size and number of buildings, the resident population would have been perhaps twenty to eighty.

Design was generally circular or semi-circular with a conical roof and an entrance designed to shield from the weather. Building materials appear to have varied, but in all cases the construction was watertight.

Observers were impressed. Writing of the two villages he observed on the Clarence in 1839 with canoes moored in a line in front, Captain Perry commented on the ways nets, baskets, water vessels and cooking utensils were “constructed with particular care and neatness.”

The Aborigines were sensible people. Just as they invested time in the construction of more permanent housing where that made sense, they also invested in the same way in communications and food production.

They created tracks especially in thick bush where that would save time, they created wells to provide water when traveling in drier country, and they invested in particular structures where that would aid food production. This included standing nets to aid in hunting and fish traps on the coast and in the west assist fishing.

While much of this has gone, the Brewarrina Fish Traps remain as an example of the scale of Aboriginal engineering.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 20 September 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 


Monday, September 25, 2017

Inverell Times, Glen Innes Examiner local history series

Regular readers will know that I write the history column for the Armidale Express. Now the Inverell Times and Glen Innes Examiner have their own columns. I will report the individual stories as they come out. This post records progress to this point.

The Inverell Times has two stories so far written by staff reporters:
The Glen Innes Examiner's first story is Living history: The Wellingrove era (18 September 2017) written by Eve Chappell.  Eve is manager, Land of the Beardies History House.

I know that other New England papers cover local history as well, at least from time to time. Please let me know of stories so that I can cover them. That way we build up a resource.
  

Friday, September 22, 2017

New DNA results shed light on African migration patterns

Researchers in Malawi examine bone fragments whose DNA provided input into a significant study of African migration patterns. Photo New York Times
There is an interesting article in Cell, Reconstructing Prehistoric African Population Structure. The summary reads:

"We assembled genome-wide data from 16 prehistoric Africans. We show that the anciently divergent lineage that comprises the primary ancestry of the southern African San had a wider distribution in the past, contributing approximately two-thirds of the ancestry of Malawi hunter-gatherers 8,100–2,500 years ago and approximately one-third of the ancestry of Tanzanian hunter-gatherers 1,400 years ago. We document how the spread of farmers from western Africa involved complete replacement of local hunter-gatherers in some regions, and we track the spread of herders by showing that the population of a 3,100-year-old pastoralist from Tanzania contributed ancestry to people from northeastern to southern Africa, including a 1,200-year old southern African pastoralist. The deepest diversifications of African lineages were complex, involving either repeated gene flow among geographically disparate groups or a lineage more deeply diverging than that of the San contributing more to some western African populations than to others. We finally leverage ancient genomes to document episodes of natural selection in southern African populations"

The New York Times (21 September 2017) carried a useful story by Carl Zimmer, Clues to Africa’s Mysterious Past Found in Ancient Skeletons, which provides some useful supplementary material.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

New England: A journey through the built landscape


Mark of the past: Groves made by grinding as part of Aboriginal axe production. This required suitable stone and access to water. This is the second in my new series on New England's built landscape and architecture 

We begin our journey through the New England built landscape and associated architecture in Aboriginal times with a question. If you could shut your eyes and return to New England in 1700, what would you see?

The physical landscape would appear familiar but also different. You would recognise major land forms, some types of vegetation, but then you would notice the differences.

Over the millennia, the Aborigines had modifies the environment to suit their needs and life styles. When the Europeans came with their stock, ploughs and axes, the landscape changed quite quickly.

The Tablelands, for example, were much boggier in Aboriginal times. The lagoons that now survive as remnants stretched along the Tablelands’ spine. Creeks such as Dumaresq Creek had high banks and deep pools. The pattern of trees and open space was different, altered by burning to meet Aboriginal needs.

All human societies have similar needs for food, shelter, protection and social interaction. They hold beliefs and values that allow society to function and explain their world. They invest time and resources in creating things that will make life easier and express their beliefs.

The Aborigines were no different. In addition to altering the landscape to meet their needs, they created a built environment that reflected available resources, climate and their culture, beliefs and life style.

That built landscape varied across Australia in ways we don’t properly understand. In Northern NSW, I suspect the first thing you would have noticed were the carved trees. They marked boundaries, graves and ceremonial sites embodying religious and ceremonial messages.

The next thing you might notice were the range of ceremonial sites including bora rings, stone arrangements and cave paintings. Some were of local significance, but others had a wider importance as centres for broader gatherings drawing visitors from long distances.

The stone sites are often found in high country including the Fall country, while the concentrations of cave paintings suggest sites of particular ceremonial or religious importance.

These ceremonial sites involved investment of considerable time not just to build and maintain, but to gather the food need to feed those attending.

The signs of Aboriginal industry and economic activity were also spread across the landscape.

Quarries such as the Moore Creek axe factory were developed to access particular types of stone, Axed had to be ground at particular sites, leaving distinctive markings on rocks. Over millennia, the production of stone tools created a lithic scatter across space, with special concentrations around occupation sites.

I will complete my discussion on the Aboriginal built environment next week looking at food production, communications and housing.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 13 September 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

When and where did the Australian Aborigines and the Denisovans meet?

Back in September 2016, a paper in Nature rather dryly titled “A genomic history of Aboriginal Australia.” reported on the results of a comparative genomic study of Australian Aboriginals and Papuans.  Genomics applies recombinant DNA, DNA sequencing methods, and bioinformatics to sequence, assemble, and analyze the function and structure of genomes (the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism).

The results were quite striking,  so striking that they attracted global media attention. “Indigenous Australians most ancient civilisation on Earth, extensive DNA study confirms” read one UK headline.

Some care must in fact be exercised in interpreting the results, for the statistical techniques used give you date ranges, a central date and then a confidence interval, a range within which the actual date might fall. These can be large, 20,000+ years, something that can be quite frustrating when you are trying to match dates to understand a pattern. That said, the results were remarkable.

They suggest that Aboriginal Australians and Papuans are more closely related to each other than to anyone else on earth. They also suggest that the Aboriginal-Papuan population diverged from Eurasians following a single out-of-Africa migration 51,000 to 72,000 years ago. See what I mean about date ranges.

In their long travels, that small band or bands of Australo-Papuans appear to have mixed with two related archaic human species. The first were the Neanderthal, something shared with Eurasians. Between one and six per cent of modern Eurasian’s genes derive from the Neanderthal, a percentage higher in some individuals depending on their exact family lineage.

Much later, the travelers mixed with the Denisovans, with about four per cent of the Aboriginal genome traceable to that admixture. We did not discover the existence of the Denisovans, a group named after Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, until excavations that began in 2008. Subsequent work suggests that the cave had also been inhabited by Neanderthals and modern humans over 125,000 years of intermittent occupation.

Speaking of the meeting with the Denisovans, study leader Professor Eske Willerslev is reported as saying: "We don't know who these people were, but they were a distant relative of Denisovans, and the Papuan/Australian ancestors probably encountered them close to Sahul."

Now comes this interesting piece in The Siberia Times (Olga Gertcyk, Extinct Denisovans from Siberia made stunning jewellery - but did they also discover Australia?, 14 September 2017). The UK Daily Mail carried a rather more sensationalised verson.(Will Stewart and Tim Collins, Were ancient Denisovans the first to discover Australia? Scientist believes traces of their DNA found in Aboriginal people suggest they beat homo-sapiens to the continent, 15 September 2017). Hat tip to regular commenter JohnB for pointing me to the Siberia Times story.

While the stories have a beat-up tone, the recent discoveries do raise the question of just when and where the ancestors of the modern Australians did meet the Denosovans. If, as the present consensus seems to suggest, they met them near Sahul, the extended continent that became Australia as the sea levels fell, the Denosovans must have been wide spread.    

In an earlier 2013 paper in Science,  Alan Cooper and Chris Stringer posed the question Did the Denisovans Cross Wallace's Line?. The summary of the paper reads:
The recent discovery of Denisovans (1, 2) and genetic evidence of their hybridization with modern human populations now found in Island Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Pacific (3) are intriguing and unexpected. The reference specimen for the Denisovan genome (4), a distal phalanx from a young girl, was recovered from the geographically distant Denisova Cave in the Russian Altai mountains. Three Denisovan mitochondrial genomes have been generated from material in the cave, dated by poorly associated fauna (5) at more than 50,000 years old. The diversity of these genomes indicates that the Denisovan population had a larger long-term average size than that of the Neandertals (6, 7), suggesting that the Denisovans were formerly widespread across mainland East Asia. However, interbreeding with modern humans only appears to have occurred in remote Island Southeast Asia, requiring marine crossings and raising questions about the distribution and fossil record of Denisovans in Island Southeast Asia.
So far we still have only one known Denisovan site, the original at one at Altai. Based on the material remains there, they have appear to have been an advanced hunter-gatherer group. It seems unlikely that the Altai Denisovans "discovered" Australia. It is more likely that there were a number of Denisovan migration paths with possible northern and southern migration routes. But we just don't know. As Professor Richard 'Bert' Roberts, Director of the Centre for Archaeological Science at the University of Wollongong suggested in the Siberia Times piece, We need deep study of ancient migration routes to understand how the Denisovan DNA exists to this day in the native people of Australia. More broadly, we just need more information about them!

We also need, I think, to consider the latest results from the Madjedbebe rockshelter in the Northern Territory,  something I wrote about in The lessons and questions from Madjedbebe, which showed occupancy as well as a sophisticated tool kit from around 65,000 years ago. Recognising my own lack of professional expertise, there is an apparent tension now between some of the date ranges generated by genomic analysis and archaeological analysis.

I have no idea how these conundrums will be resolved, nor what picture we will find at the end of the process. I suspect that it will be as different from current knowledge as current knowledge is from the world view holding even thirty years ago. .      .  .

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Architectural keys to the past


Mid Victorian finery: Mallam House was built in 1870 for Henry Guy Mallam, one of Armidale's pioneer chemists and druggists. This post marks the start of a a new series on New England's built landscape and architecture 

The past lies all around us in the form of the built landscape. We see it, but then we don’t because it is so familiar to us.

Each period since European occupation of the land has been marked by different architectural styles, by different building forms that vary depending on the time built, on purpose and on available materials, on economics and available technology, on fashion and sometimes fad.

There are similarities in the built landscape across the broader New England. The old bank buildings or post offices, for example, are instantly recognisable, sometimes surviving as symbols of a more optimistic time. However, there are also differences that reflect differences in physical, human and economic geography. The architecture of the North Coast is not the same as the Tablelands, that of Newcastle is different again.

The built landscape is constantly reinvented through a process of destruction and reconstruction, of expansion and sometimes contraction. Sometimes elements survive as memorials to past hopes and expectations.

In 1970-71 when Robert Bryant designed stage 3 of the Old Boiler House at the University of New England, he did so as part of a broader plan for a northern residential complex. That complex was never built, swept away in the changes taking place in the university sector.

When New England gained autonomy in 1954 there were nine Australian universities. In 1970 that number had increased to 14. Then an explosion occurred: there were 19 universities in 1980, 25 in 1990, 39 in 2000. UNE’s focus shifted from expansion to survival in the face of fierce competition, leaving the Old Boiler House behind as a sign of things past.

There are different ways of classifying the architecture surrounding us.

We can classify it by period and style. Mallam House, for example, is Armidale’s best surviving example a mid Victorian fashionable house.

It was built in 1870 for Henry Guy Mallam, one of Armidale’s pioneer chemists and druggists, to service the high end rental market. Its first tenant was Bishop Timothy O’Mahony, Armidale’s first Catholic Bishop of Armidale.

We can, as with the old Boiler House, look at architecture in terms of the combination of style and purpose.

A very different example of Armidale’s Victorian architecture can be found on the western side of Beardy Street. Designed by architect John Sulman for the Australian Joint Stock Bank and completed in 1889, the building was intended to be functional while acting as a physical assertion of authority and respectability.

With this as introduction, over the next few weeks I will take you on a tour of New England architecture from the very ancient to the most modern. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 6 September 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

William Gardner - chronicler, sketcher, amateur photographer, tutor, regional historian and geographer.


Saumarez Homestead as we know it today. When William Gardner took up a position as tutor on Saumarez Station in 1842 the property was owned by the Elizabeth Dumaresq. In 1856, Saumarez was sold to Henry Arding Thomas who in 1874 sold it to Francis White. It was the Whites who built the homestead we know today.  

“When New England was first settled by the Whites”, William Gardner wrote in 1854, “they found standing nets of the Blacks in many parts of the bush for the purpose of entrapping the wild animals – The tribes of Blacks met by appointment at these places at certain times driving from different directions their game before them, and this from a circle of many miles into these nets”.

This has become one of the most often quoted descriptions of traditional Aboriginal life on the Tablelands, providing a clear picture of the nature of cooperative work within an Aboriginal society on the point of disruption.

One of the first chroniclers of life in Northern New South Wales, William Gardner has been described as sketcher, amateur photographer, tutor, regional historian and geographer.

Gardner (1802-1860) was born in Glasgow, Scotland. In April 1838 he sailed from Leith, Edinburgh’s port, for Sydney as a cabin passenger on the barque Countess of Durham, arriving five months later.

We know little of Gardner’s life in the thirty six years before he sailed for Sydney. He was clearly an educated man and may by then have spent some time in Georgia (USA), for in 1848 he published a pamphlet on the possibility of growing of cotton in NSW.

Upon arrival in Sydney, Gardner worked briefly for the Union Bank of Australia before going north to Maitland to assist in Dickson’s general store. About 1842, he moved further north to become tutor (at £15 a year, plus keep) at Saumarez Station near Armidale.

The Saumarez run had been taken up by William and Henry Dumaresq in 1837. When Henry died from war wounds in 1838, his wife Elizabeth inherited Saumarez. While the property remained in family hands until 1856 when it was sold to Henry Arding Thomas, Elizabeth and her children returned to England a few years after Henry’s death.

Gardner was then employed as tutor at various stations around the district, Moredun, Rockvale, John Barker’s Mount Mitchell Station, and finally Andrew Coventry's Oban Station .

A keen horseman, Gardner travelled widely over the district. He compiled the first detailed map of the northern districts of New South Wales, published in September 1844.

Gardner's later writings were not published, but were kept in large manuscript notebooks. “I made them for my own amusement”, he wrote. These notebooks, now held in the Mitchell Library, are a treasure trove of information about the early years of New England.

One of his pupils, John Barker’s daughter, recalled Gardner as a stout, jovial man of wide learning, a keen amateur photographer and painter, the owner of a stereoscope with views of his native country and a keen student of history who 'wrote in bulky volumes far into the night by the light of a candle’.

Gardner did not marry. He died at Oban in September 1860 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In November 1973, a headstone was finally erected on the grave by the Armidale and District Historical Society.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 30 August 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The fossil footprints of Trachilos date to c5.7 million years ago

The Trachilos Footprints

On Trachilos, Crete, 29 small fossil tracks were found made by someone walking upright. The footprints have remarkable human like characteristics. Now Professors Mathew Bennett (Bournemouth University) and Per Ahlberg (Uppsala University) report in The Conversation (1 September 2017, (Our controversial footprint discovery suggests human-like creatures may have roamed Crete nearly 6m years ago).that the footprints have been dated  to around 5.7 million years ago. At this point towards the end of the Miocene the Mediterranean Sea was apparently dry, with Crete linked to Greece with a very different environment from today.

The authors conclude:
If – and for many it is a big if – the tracks of Trachilos were indeed made by an early human ancestor, then the biogeographical range of our early ancestors would increase to encompass the eastern Mediterranean. 
In a later piece in The Conversation (4 September), Robin Crompton (University of Liverpool) and Susannah Thorpe (University of Birmingham) ask Ancient footprints in Crete challenge theory of human evolution – but what actually made them?

They note  that it looks as though the footprints may be hominin – a member of the human species after separation from the chimpanzee lineage."But, as the authors point out themselves, the findings are highly controversial – suggesting human ancestors may have existed in Crete at the same time as they evolved in Africa..........So what should we make of it all? If the footprints are confirmed to be from a hominin – additional studies are needed before we can know for sure – it is unquestionably exciting."

After discussing options and the need for further investigation of the findings, they conclude:
If all 50 of the Trachilos prints were made freely available to other scientists as high resolution laser scans, we would have a decent sample to assess their variability and compare them to other fossil and recent footprints and foot pressure records. And indeed, the researchers behind the study told The Conversation they are aiming to release all their data at some point. 
This would give us a good chance of saying who made them. As it stands, they could as well be those of gorillas – which separated from us over 10m years ago – as those of a member of our own human lineage such as Oreopithecus or Orrorin.

Using Domain or realestate.com.au as historical research tools

I have begun a new series in my Armidale Express column on New England's built landscape and architecture. The opening sentences sentences in the first column, Architectural keys to the past, set  the theme.
The past lies all around us in the form of the built landscape. We see it, but then we don’t because it is so familiar to us.
This is Woodleigh on the outskirts of Armidale. While modernised, it is a fairly typical country homestead of its period with its weatherboard construction, chimneys and verandah.

I found Woodleigh on the Domain real estate site. I had not actually realised to that point that the sale notices on Domain and rival site realestate.com.au are actually quite a valuable tool for historical research for those interested in the history of architecture and the built environment in general or in regard to particular locations.

Each house has photographs, a floor plan, a written description and a map. By looking at the map you can place the house and its type in a particular location. By scanning a number of house sale notices over time, .you build up a picture, a mental mud map, of the varying built landscape in an area. You also get a good idea of prices, although that may not be your primary aim.

You can also use the approach to select examples that illustrate particular architectural styles to be found in the area.

In investigating, you also find out new things that then provide a base for further research.

This is 148 Dangar Street just two blocks from the main street. It was constructed in the 1890s from Armidale blue brick

I know this house quite well because I used to walk past it all the time. It's a funny place, striking in its own way but somehow different.

While I knew the house from the outside, I did not know its history. I find from Domain that it was originally built as stables for James Miller’s Kapunda estate. This was described in 1891 as “one of the most complete private residences in town”, with the stables planned by James White described as “very comfortable quarters” for racehorses. The house was later refurbished as a four bedroom residence.

I don't know anything about James Miller or his Kapunda estate, so I have some further research to do at some point.