University Of Tasmania
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Mapping Tasmania's cultural landscapes: using habitat suitability modelling of archaeological sites as a landscape history tool

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Aim: Understanding past distributions of people across the landscape is key to understanding how people used, affected and related to the natural environment. Here, we use habitat suitability modelling to represent the landscape distribution of Tasmanian Aboriginal archaeological sites and assess the implications for patterns of past human activity.

Location: Tasmania, Australia.

Methods: We developed a RandomForest ‘habitat suitability' model of site records in the Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage Register. We applied a best‐effort bias correction, considered 31 predictor variables relating to climate, topography and resource proximity, and used a variable selection procedure to optimize the final model. Model uncertainty was assessed via bootstrapping and we ran an analogous MaxEnt model as a cross‐validation exercise.

Results: The results from the RandomForest and MaxEnt models are highly congruent. The strongest environmental predictors of site occurrence include distance to coast, elevation, soil clay content, topographic roughness and distance to inland water. The highest habitat suitability scores are distributed across a wide range of environments in central, northern and eastern Tasmania, including coastal areas, inland water body margins and forests and savannas in the drier parts of Tasmania. With the exception of coastal areas much of western Tasmania has low habitat suitability scores, consistent with theories of low‐density Holocene Tasmanian Aboriginal settlement in this region.

Main conclusions: Our modelling suggests Tasmanian Aboriginal people occupied a heterogeneity of habitats but targeted coastal areas around the whole island, and drier, less steep and/or open forest and savanna environments in the central lowlands. The western interior was identified as being rarely used by Aboriginal people in the Holocene, with the exception of isolated pockets of habitat; yet whether this is a true reflection of Aboriginal‐resourceuse demands increased archaeological surveys, particularly in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.


University of Tasmania


Publication title

Journal of Biogeography










School of Natural Sciences


Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Place of publication

9600 Garsington Rd, Oxford, England, Oxon, Ox4 2Dg

Rights statement

Copyright 2019 The Authors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Other environmental management not elsewhere classified; Expanding knowledge in history, heritage and archaeology