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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Climate plays role in Aboriginal resettlement


Migration: The evidence suggests that the ancestors of the Anaiwan might have settled the tablelands from the Macleay Valley via the Falls country 5000 plus years ago.This is the seventh in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.

As the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) gripped the continent 21,000 years ago, the Aboriginal population was forced to adjust.

On the North Coast, the fall in sea levels destroyed the environment that had formed along the previous coastline. Today, we are used to thinking of the North Coast as a rich area in Aboriginal terms with its mix of sea, estuary, river and land resources. That may well not have been the case then.

The coastal shelf is often narrow and declines quite sharply. The falling sea levels destroyed the previous coastal environment and may have created a rugged coast line with increasingly cold waters, narrower rivers and smaller estuaries, a far less attractive environment than would exist later.

Inland, the Tablelands became sub-alpine, the arid zone widened, the inland lakes dried up, while the now smaller inland rivers wended their way across sandy plains. Faced by cold, very windy and dry conditions, the Aborigines probably retreated to refuge areas offering relatively better conditions.

The LGM began to ease around 15,000 years ago. Around this time, the North American ice sheets melted. Around 12,000 years ago, the Antarctic ice sheets began to shrink. The Holocene with its higher rainfall and warmer temperatures had begun.

The seas rose, reaching present levels around 6,000 years ago. The first effect of rising sea levels was to again destroy the immediate coastal environment. It took time for the spreading rivers to begin to create the rich estuarine environment we know today.

Archaeological dates begin to reappear: around 9,000 years in the Macleay Valley, 6,500 years at Seelands in the Clarence, 5,500 years at Graman on the Western Slopes. The oldest Tablelands date we have definitely associated with human settlement is around 4,300 years ago at Bendemeer. The Aboriginal society that the Europeans would find was forming.

Based on the date patterns as well as linguistic linkages, it presently appears that the Tablelands were resettled from the coast. Two streams were involved.

The first group came from the south through the Falls country from the new populations, the Dainggatti speakers, in the Macleay Valley. From there, they spread north.

As they spread, they coincided with settlers from the Northern Rivers and especially the Clarence/Nymboida river system, the Gumbaingirr speakers, who had followed the rivers upstream and effectively occupied significant parts of the Tablelands. Further north, there was Bandjalung expansion, but this appears to have been less pronounced.

The latter parts of the migration coincided with Gamilaraay expansion, creating an effective southern and western barrier. The end result was the very particular pattern of language distribution we see today, an elongated north-south pattern squeezed between east and west.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 19 July 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, July 19, 2017

Voices of cultural landscape

CHANGING WORLD: During the Last Glacial Maximum, the Tablelands' climate became sub-alpine, sub-glacial. Trees actually vanished in many cases, replaced by tundra. This is the sixth in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.

The theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week celebrations has been Our Languages Matter, celebrating the role that Aboriginal language plays in cultural identity.

At the Uralla parade, Anaiwan elder Les Townsend said that continuing the Anaiwan language was important to him. “We have a lot of words, but we haven’t got the complete language yet.”

Uralla Shire Council Mayor Pearce said the language was a connection to law, family, history, religion, childcare, health, caring for country and more. “Each language is associated with an area of land and has a deep spiritual significance.” (AE 5 July 2107)

Mayor Pearce is correct.

Each Aboriginal group had its own language that linked with those around them like cells on a sheet of graph to form dialects and then bigger language groups. Each language covered the totality of human experience from the scared to the profane, from yarning around the camp fire to the language of love and relationship to that attached to the most important religious ceremonies.

Loss of language is a profound experience because it represents loss not just of language, but of the culture and tradition which that language expressed.

In this continuing series on the mystery of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, I have tried to interest you in the story of one Aboriginal language, to bring one limited part of the past alive. I said in my last column that I would conclude the series by looking at the reasons why Anaiwan changed to the point that that many considered it to be a totally separate language.

The account that follows is necessarily speculative, open to challenge.

The first Aboriginal settlers reached the continent called Sahul perhaps 50,000 years ago. By 30,000 years, they had spread across the entire continent, although total population numbers may not have been high by later standards.

Those first settlers experienced benign condition. Sea levels fluctuated greatly during the long Pleistocene period. Forty thousand years ago, sea levels were perhaps 50 metres below current levels, creating a broader coastal plain. Rainfall was high, temperatures moderate. Rivers running east and west from the Tablelands would have carried substantial volumes of water.

From perhaps 25,000 years ago, the local environment began to deteriorate becoming very dry and both intensely hot and intensely cold. This climatic regime peaked during what is called the Last Glacial Maximum, 21,000 to 15,000 years ago.

The sea retreated to perhaps 120 metres below current levels. It became colder, 2-4 degrees C below current levels. On land, mean monthly temperatures probably fell by 6-10 degrees C. Extensive inland dune building suggests that the climate become much windier.

The Tablelands area that would become the territory of the Anaiwan became sub-alpine, sub-glacial, in spots. It seems almost certain that the human population would have had to retreat.  
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 July 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, July 12, 2017

Unravelling the Anaiwan language mystery


Macleay Valley, dance of defiance 1842: Language covers all aspects of life. As life changes, so does language.This is the fifth in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.

In an earlier column in this series on the story of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, I mentioned that languages change over time. They change in vocabulary, in pronunciation and in grammatical structures.

The Aboriginal group or groups who first entered Sahul, the name given to the larger continent combining Australia and Papua New Guinea when sea levels were much lower, spoke their own language. That language covered the full domain of life, from the detail of daily living to the ceremonial and religious.

As the Aborigines spread across their new continent, new words had to be added or existing words altered to cover the new things they found. They preserved their history through song and dance, through yarns told around the campfire, but inevitably things were lost as new experiences and ideas were added.

The very sound of language changed slowly over time and space. Part of this was due to language drift, the way language changed from one generation to the next over multiple generations, part to the addition of new words that were fitted in but still changed the way that people spoke.

We will never properly understand the pattern of these changes over the long millennia of Aboriginal occupation of the continent that would become Australia. However, linguists have developed rules that assist them to understand the ways in which languages might have changed.

In his work untangling the mysteries of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, Terry Crowley attempted to do two things.

First, he looked at the relationships between Anaiwan and the surrounding languages to define rules that might explain difference and relationships. In doing so, he was able to establish that Anaiwan fitted within the general corpus of surrounding Aboriginal languages and that it was most closely related to the coastal languages and especially Djangadi or Dhanggati, the language of the Macleay Valley.

This left him with a second question, why did Anaiwan vary in such a way as to become an apparently different language? This problem was especially complicated because of the apparent connections between the Djangadi and the Tableands’ languages further north,. Why was Anaiwan, the southern language, so different?

Crowley put the problem this way

The phonological changes in Anaiwan must have taken considerable some time ago to allow other Tablelands’ languages to add so much non-coastal material, to allow for the shifts in pronunciation.

The answer, he suggested, may have lain in the existence of a secret or mystical Anaiwan language, one independent of but parallel to the main language, that reduced the need for Anaiwan to borrow from other languages.

This secret language may well have existed, Mathews refers to it, but is not (I think) the most logical explanation. Rather, I think that the answer lies in geography and the pattern of climatic change.

I will explain this in my last columns in this series. 
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 5 July 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, July 05, 2017

Neanderthal DNA gives timeline for modern human-related dispersal from Africa

During excavations near the entrance of Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in southwestern Germany in 1937 a 124,000 year old Neanderthal femur was discovered. Now its mitochondrial DNA was analyzed and provides a timeline for a suggested migration of hominins out of Africa before 220,000 years ago
More DNA stuff, this time from Past Horizon. I quote from the start of the article, Neanderthal DNA gives timeline for new modern human-related dispersal from Africa.
Ancient mitochondrial DNA from the femur of an archaic European hominin is helping to resolve the complicated relationship between modern humans and Neanderthals. The genetic data recovered by the research team, led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Tübingen, provides a timeline for a proposed hominin migration out of Africa that occurred after the ancestors of Neanderthals arrived in Europe by a lineage more closely related to modern humans. These hominins interbred with Neanderthals already present in Europe, leaving their mark on the Neanderthals’ mitochondrial DNA. The study, published in Nature Communications, (open access) pushes back the possible date of this event to between 470,000 and 220,000 years ago.

Sourced for later reference