Beyond the Frontier: Explorations in Ethnohistory
Beyond the Frontier: Explorations in Ethnohistory considers the historiography of ethnohistory and uses 2 methods to examine how long some Indigenous Australian groups had been living in villages, identifies the world's oldest ceremonial object, evidence of interaction between Indigenous Australians and megafauna, and how the Indigenous Australian reached the shores of Australia 49,000 year ago. More
This book has evolved over nearly a decade.
The first chapter is on the historiography of ethnohistory. Chapter 2 is a case study exemplifying the specific application of historical ethnography. This builds on previous research that considered seemingly permanent Indigenous settlements of the central west coast of Western Australia, western Victoria and the ‘Corners Region’. In this chapter a few simple historical observations are allied to a comparative material from other parts of the world to suggest that the pattern of Aboriginal people living in villages and very large domiciles, in western Victoria and the ‘Corners Region’ at time of contact with Europeans, may have been in effect for 1000-1500 years.
The content of Chapter 3 revolves around the discovery of a cylindro-conical object, better known as a ‘cylcon’, during excavations at Cuddie Springs in northern New South Wales in 1991. It appears cylcons were still in use, predominantly in eastern Australia, at the time of European contact, and into the earlier part of the Contact Period. While there is some literature on cylcons, their nature, role and purpose has never fully or coherently explained. This chapter attempts to do so, and concludes that cyclonc were ceremonial objects and concludes that the Cuddie Springs cylcon is the oldest ceremonial object in the world.
The debate over the extinction of Australia’s megafauna has, at times, been acerbic and divisive. Much of the evidence employed in research into the question of when and why the megafauna became extinct has relied on archaeological, palaeontological and climatological evidence. Chapter 4 takes a different approach in drawing on what I call ethnogenic evidence, in the form of deep time Aboriginal oral traditions, rock art and one particular petroglyph, known as the ‘Panaramitee Crocodile’. The consistency of oral traditions and their congruence with the natural phenomena they describe are used to validate those traditions, and by relating them to the dating of the natural phenomena described, to date those traditions. The inferences drawn from this suggest that some of the megafauna survived in temperate areas long after Australia was first colonised and were not rapidly exterminated, as argued by the proponents of the so-called ‘blitzkrieg’ hypothesis.
Finally, Chapter 5 considers how Sahulian Australia was first colonised, about 49,000 year ago, by the ancestors of its current Indigenous population. The origins of the first Australians, where they came from, when and how they reached Australia’s doorstep is summarised. The default explanation, that some form of watercraft must have been used, is examined and found wanting. The global prehistory of watercraft is considered in some depth, in terms of direct archaeological evidence and indirect evidence based on zoogeography and obsidian transportation. This suggests watercraft did not come into existence until 25,000-30,000 years ago. The prehistory of Indigenous watercraft also comes under scrutiny in this context. Issues around much earlier colonisation of islands by hominims, such as Flores by Homo floresiensis (the ‘Hobbit’), and the technical capabilities of hominims and early modern humans are considered as well. A dataset of island colonisation in the last 70,000 years is presented graphically, and this also indicates that systematic island colonisation did not commence until 25,000-30,000 years ago. It is argued that earlier crossings of seaways arose from incidental circumstances. To explain the colonisation of Sahulian Australia a new hypothesis is presented.