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Review of Prehistory of Australia

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-22, 01:56 authored by David BowmanDavid Bowman
PREHISTORY OF AUSTRALIA. By John Mulvaney and Johan Kamminga. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution Press. $27.95 (paper). xx + 480 P + 16 pi; ill.; index. ISBN: 1-56098-804-5. 1999. An apt adjective for both the Australian biota and the prehistory of the Aboriginal people is "enigmatic." Only recently, however, has it been appreciated how the historical and ecological biography of Australia and Aborigines are inextricably linked. This authoritative book lucidly explains why certainty and simplicity have retreated in direct proportion to the ongoing research effort into Australia's prehistory. For instance, the authors' sober analysis of the evidence demonstrates that the time of colonization remains an open question despite forty years of research. What this research has demonstrated, however, is that some of humanity's first seafarers colonized Australia sometime beyond the radiocarbon dating horizon of 40,000 years before present. Equally, the authors doubt the enduring hypotheses that Australia was colonized by "archaic" humans such as Homo ereetus or that the late Pleistocene inhabitants caused the extinction of the Australian megafauna. Aboriginal people have a rich body of oral traditions concerning their past, but Mulvaney and Kamminga feel that it is not possible to integrate these with the western scientific approach that they espouse. They accept that it is possible to extrapolate the knowledge ofthe "ethnographic present" to the relatively recent past of the last few millennia. They demonstrate, however, that the vast majority of the Australia's prehistory is as opaque as smoked glass.


Publication title

Quarterly Review of Biology








School of Natural Sciences


Univ Chicago Press

Place of publication

1427 E 60Th St, Chicago, USA, Il, 60637-2954

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Effects of climate change on Australia (excl. social impacts)

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