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Chapter 8- Holocene Australia and the Pacific Basin
Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, students should be able to:

    discuss the colonization and early occupation of Australia.

    understand the impact of environmental change on the economic and social structure of Aboriginal culture

    describe change in Australian technology and subsistence through time

    relate details of the impact of European colonialism on Aboriginal people in Australia

    discuss the Austronesian dispersal, as a language family and material culture system

    describe the colonization and development of agriculture in New Guinea and Melanesia

    understand the long and vast migration of Austronesian speakers, from Taiwan through island Southeast Asia (East Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines) and Oceania (the islands of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia), Madagascar, southern Vietnam and New Zealand

    discuss the cultural losses, through "bottlenecks" and the innovations that occurred during this dispersal

    describe the Lapita complex and its significance

    understand why some regions developed complex, stratified societies while others continued with simpler political forms

    relate details of the theories advanced to explain both the development of intensive agriculture and complex societies and the collapse of certain social groups

    discuss the impact of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam in the Southeast Asian islands and how this differed from contact with the Pacific Islands

People arrived in Australia by 40,000 years ago when the continent was 50 percent larger and climate cooler and drier. Beginning around 9600 BC the continental shelf submerged, isolating communities, although hunter-gatherers colonized the region by 8000 BC. Archaeology reveals how Aboriginal people adjusted socially and economically during the Holocene.

Early Foragers in a Changing Landscape Between around 2000 BC and AD 1, rainfall lessened, creating dunes and droughts, but increased during the last 2000 years. Changing foraging strategies match changes in climate.

The sea rose until about 5000 BC, forcing groups inland to areas occupied by others. Arnhem Land rock panels showing battles may reflect this. Rising seas created islands such as Tasmania, where people adapted, but on King Island and Kangaroo Island people were stranded and died out. Whitsunday Island inhabitants invented outrigger canoes around 1000 BC to resolve isolation. Excavations in Moreton Bay show that coastal people adapted by exploiting molluscs and coastal fish.

Technology in Uncertain Times Inland, stone artifacts changed dramatically in almost every area. The most common tools of the Pleistocene-Holocene transition were scrapers. Around 2500-1000 BC, standardized, finely made stone tools were produced and discarded in abundance, with different forms appearing in different parts of Australia, reflecting local environmental and social change.

Some theorize these tools came from Southeast Asia around 2000 BC, when dogs were introduced. However, the artifacts were used thousands of years earlier, and changes are related to economic and climate change.

Changing Life in Tasmania The same environmental shifts were responsible for changes in settlement, foraging, and social patterns in Tasmania, notably the complete cessation of fishing around 1800 BC. Hunters shifted to hunting terrestrial game and fat-rich seals and birds, minimizing lean fish.

Open forests and grassland replaced some closed forests c. 2000 BC, perhaps spurred by Aboriginal burning practices. Rockshelters above 1000 m ASL were occupied more after 2000 BC as inland resources rose in use. The isolated Bass Strait Islands were abandoned c. 2000 BC while use of less remote islands intensified.

The time between 2000 and 500 BC involved alterations to territory size and residential locations, reorganization of seasonal movements, and changing social and political organization, consistent with the abandonment and relocation of artistic and ritual activities on Tasmania, where carved panels at Mount Cameron West were abandoned.

Changes in Aboriginal Perceptions of the Landscape Similar changes to territory, group movements, and landscape use are seen on the mainland, linked to changing conceptualizations of place and stories about powerful beings such as the Rainbow Serpent, seen in rock art. Art dating to over 20,000-30,000 years ago document not only changes in lifestyle but also in the way people conceptualized their world. In western Arnhem Land paintings of yams and marsupials were suddenly replaced by fish and turtles. The Rainbow Serpent originated as a pipefish, then gradually transformed into an imaginary, composite beast. This reflects a change in existing religion, rather than the origin point.

Ngarrabulgan mountain, previously used for camping, hunting, and social events was abandoned in the last 1000 years, as mythologies describing dangers were established. Early art panels show uniform images across broad areas; late panels display regional distinctiveness, marking the emergence of regional political and social entities. Increasing cemeteries and large base camps may reflect boundedness.

The Growth of Trade Networks Group identity and territorial boundaries are linked to the emergence of extensive trade networks through formal markets or reciprocal ceremonial gift-giving, linking distant groups through exchange of narcotics, ocher, stone axes, grindstones, and shell pendants. Archaeological evidence of this trade has been found at sites dating to the last 1000 to 2000 years. In some places demand caused intensification of surplus production for trade, such as mining, quarrying and manufacturing. Examples include the Wilgie Mia and Lake Moondarra sites.

Population and Settlement Change Between 2000 BC and AD 1, population rise led to increase in artifacts, sites and burial grounds, i.e. Murray River Valley, possibly linked to climatic change and rising social competition.

People stayed longer at base camps located near abundant resources, marked by large artifact scatters and shell mounds, moving on to new base camps when local resources were depleted. In some regions wet versus dry seasons created movement in a regular, predictable seasonal round. In other regions, people aggregated around springs such as near Lake Eyre, probably due to prolonged drought.

Claims for long-term sedentism have been overstated based on earth mounds and low stone walls interpreted as house foundations. These are either natural or features such as cooking mounds and ceremonial structures. Some small buildings were used in sequential occupations during bad weather, but not as permanent settlements.

At Toolondo, the presence of "eel traps" and eel smoking has been claimed as evidence of sedentism. Construction and maintenance required labor but do not mean year round use, since eels migrate seasonally. Harvesting and storage innovations may have reduced long hunting trips and frequent moves, but did not lead to permanent villages.

The Effects of Historic Foreign Contacts Large Aboriginal encampments near early colonial outposts also suggested sedentism to some, but these resulted from drastically changed Aboriginal social and economic systems, due to disease, power and knowledge vacuums, and the rise of new status through controlling negotiations with colonizers who had trade goods. Metal tools, such as iron axes in turn changed foraging technologies: intensified foraging and stockpiling enabled groups to stay sedentary for longer periods than in prehistoric times. Thus, proto- and early historic conditions are a poor analogue for prehistoric times.

Lowered sea levels during the Pleistocene created an ancient landmass extending from Asia, termed Sundaland, that included present-day Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and Bali. The Philippines and eastern Indonesia were never connected to either Asia or Australia, although distances between them were reduced. Thus, migration to Australia has always involved sea crossings for animals, plants, and humans. Some islands were reached before 40,000 years ago, while others were only accessible after 1500 BC. Food resources differed but were rich enough to support incoming settlers.

Early Human Settlers in Island Southeast Asia Although not all paleontologists agree, some believe that Homo erectus arrived before 1 million years ago and is partly ancestral to current populations. This is hotly debated. Anatomically modern humans clearly occupied the region by at least 40,000 years ago.
    Pleistocene-Holocene transition populations were hunter-gatherers with flake and pebble tools similar to the Hoabinhian of the Southeast Asian mainland, where at Niah and Tabon Caves it is associated with skeletons similar to Australians or Melanesians. No domesticates or pottery are present, but edge-ground axes hint at new uses. Some tool variation is seen in the microlithic Toalian toolkit of the Philippines and Indonesia that appeared around 4000 BC. Similar industries appear in Australia, reflecting food procurement and risk management strategies; the technology may have come from Australia to other parts of Asia.

Early Agriculturalists in New Guinea Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands witnessed two dispersals of agricultural populations: pre-Austronesian, and Austronesian.

Pre-Austronesian people arrived by at least 4000 BC in the New Guinea highlands, favourable for farming and free of malaria. Taro, yams, bananas, and sugarcane were grown. The absence of cereals and domesticated animals led to small, scattered populations. Pigs were not introduced until c. 1000 BC by Austronesians, and the American sweet potato arrived as late as AD 1550. Lowland New Guinea had a low population and endemic malaria, and no agricultural colonization of Australia occurred: it was the last completely hunter-gatherer continent to survive until European contact.

Over 1000 Austronesian languages make it the second-largest language family in the world. Economic variation was also great: rice cultivation, tubers, and fruits provided mainstays. Fish, pork, and chicken were used in most regions, with bovids important in island Southeast Asia. Iron Age hunter-gatherers were juxtaposed with boat-dwelling fisher-foragers. By AD 1500, many had possessed bronze and iron technology for 1700 years, while in other areas people were technologically Neolithic.

Who are the Austronesians? The Austronesian dispersal is recent, particularly in Oceania, where they comprised the first settlers, arriving within the past 3500 to 800 years. Languages indicate that the primary dispersal was not uniform or continuous, as they share a common ancestor and spread outwards from a homeland. The archaeological record is crucial for understanding the spread of artifact types, production systems, and domesticated crops and animals. Do comparative linguistics and archaeology tell the same story, or completely different ones? Languages and people do not always spread together: people change languages without changing material culture, or vice versa. In some regions biological data correlate only partially or even contradict linguistic and archaeological records, indicating a complex prehistory. Austronesians are thus the people who speak Austronesian languages, who have resisted inroads from many influences since they arrived in their present locations.

A Basic History of the Austronesian Languages Ancestral groups migrated from the southern Chinese mainland to Taiwan, but the Austronesian language family first "crystallized" in Taiwan, the "Austronesian homeland." An examination of word meanings provides inferences about Proto-Austronesians in Taiwan:
    they were agriculturalists who grew foxtail millet, sugarcane, and rice
    they made boats, probably without sails, and lived in timber houses
    they kept pigs, dogs, chickens, and water buffalo
    they had bows and arrows, looms for weaving, and used pottery, but they did not cast copper or smelt iron.

This means they were a Neolithic society similar to many groups at the time of European contact. The break-up of the original Proto-Austronesian dialect into separate languages occurred within populations spreading across Taiwan. A millennium later, an ancestral Malayo-Polynesian language was carried by sea to the Philippines, where words for breadfruit, coconut, sago, and bananas were added, and sails were attached to canoes.

After Philippine occupation, a rapid, massive dispersal occurred throughout island Southeast Asia and into the central Pacific. Following the rapid language spread, there seems to have been a pause. Archaeologically, this could reflect the crossing of much wider sea gaps, necessitating major innovations in canoe technology. The identification of successive stages is based on linguistics and well-corresponding archaeological records for absolute dating, material culture, and economy.

The Archaeology of Early Austronesian Dispersal

Taiwan Between 3000 and 2000 BC, the Neolithic complex termed Dabenkeng developed on Taiwan, with incised and cord-marked pottery, stone adzes, rice, pigs, dogs, and possibly chickens.

Recent discoveries at sites such as Nanguanli indicate a style that developed out of the Dabenkeng, mainly after 2000 BC. This post-Dabenkeng has linked Dabenkeng culture to the early Austronesians through materials such as Dabenkeng-type pottery with cord-marked, red-painted, and red-slipped decoration, stone barkcloth beaters, perforated slate projectile points, shouldered stone adzes, baked clay spindle whorls, tanged reaping knives of shell, and shell bracelets and earrings, Many of these also occur at sites in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Melanesia.

Dispersals to Southeast Asia and Madagascar In the Philippines, Sarawak, Sabah, the Talaud Islands, northern Sulawesi, and the northern Moluccas archaeological traces of the Austronesian expansion of the 2nd and early 1st millennia BC are found in rockshelters and shell midden sites with pottery, shell artifacts, and polished stone adzes, and rice husks. Sites include Andarayan, Gua Sireh, Bukit Tengkorak, Magapit, and Nagsabaran

Pollen studies from Taiwan, Java, and Sumatra indicate clearance for agriculture from c. 2000 BC onwards, The few sites known date the Neolithic colonization to the 2nd or 1st millennia BC. Madagascar and the Comoro Islands were probably only reached by Austronesians in the mid-1st millennium AD, or Iron Age.

The Colonization of Oceania In the western Pacific, between 1400 and 900 BC, Neolithic sites of the Lapita cultural complex were established from the Admiralty Islands to Samoa, correlating with a linguistic spread. Settlers found rich resources and malaria-free areas not subject to high infant mortality rates. Site sizes and numbers indicate rapid population growth.

Lapita Economy The Lapita had a mixed horticultural and maritime economy. Village settlements about 1 to 8 ha in size contain sherds, earth ovens, hearths, postholes, and other features. Inter-island exchange brought obsidian and other stone.

The Mariana Islands were settled before 1500 BC by users of pottery similar to Lapita. Their Chamorro language can be traced to the northern Philippines, and the open-sea crossing of at least 2500 km represents a truly great voyage. The Palau Islands were occupied around 1500 BC, while the Carolines, were not settled before c. AD 1.

The Settlement of Polynesia Lapita colonists reached Tonga and Samoa by about 1000 BC. Pottery grew simpler over time and eventually went out of use in Samoa and southern Micronesia c. AD 300. Pottery-making continued in New Guinea and Melanesia. Clay sources don't explain this -- some islands lacked clay but others had excellent sources. Rice, millet, and spinning and weaving were also lost; Austronesians may have experienced "bottleneck" losses of cultural knowledge.
    Polynesians invented the double sailing canoe allowing colonization with transported domesticates, and terraced and canal irrigated agricultural systems were impressive, as were New Zealand's palisaded earthwork fortifications and Eastern Polynesia's massive stone platforms used by competing chiefs in the Hawaiian, Society, and Marquesas Islands. On Easter Island, platforms included statues. The Austronesians had both losses and gains over the long term.
    Settlement of central and eastern Polynesia lying beyond the Lapita linguistic zone occurred after a pause in colonization. Radiocarbon dates show they were only settled around AD 700 or later. Beyond Samoa, the first settlers became aceramic, so a chronology derived from ceramic art styles is lacking, and archaeologists must use radiocarbon dates alone -- problematic since due to the young dates, radiocarbon standard deviations are frequently too broad to be useful.

Eastern Polynesia Most central and eastern Polynesian colonization occurred between about AD 700 and 1200. The rapid spread after such a long pause may be related to resource shortfalls after 1500 years, frequent El Niņo events, or improved canoe technology. Once settlement began, population growth was rapid in the disease-free and food-rich environment, until the onset of introduced diseases in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Why Migrate? Need for agricultural land and resources does not explain island migration. In societies with institutionalized ownership, status and land rights were determined by ancestry, gender, and birth order, so new generations, seeking success and peer-recognition might have found it by colonizing new territory: founding of new communities was a high-status activity.

In the millennia since initial colonization the Pacific Islands maintained Neolithic traditions in relative isolation while west of New Guinea people incorporated metal-working after about 300 BC, and successive arrivals of Indian, Chinese and Islamic influences after AD 1250.

Polynesian Complex Societies: Easter Island and Elsewhere On fertile Oceanic islands complex societies with chiefs, social ranks, and frequent warfare developed, such as Easter Island (Rapa Nui), colonized around AD 900 -- also a well-known example of social collapse. Massive stone statues (moai), carved c. AD 1100-1650, were erected amidst raised stone platforms (ahu), perhaps representing deified chiefs. The cultural system over-reached its food supply and technology, rendering Rapa Nui almost treeless, leading to impoverishment and warfare.

Other island chiefdoms did not collapse and display impressive stone shrine/temple platforms (marae), sometimes in stepped pyramidal forms. Earthwork fortifications were built by Fijians and the Maoris, while Tongan nobility built coral slab-terraced earthen burial mounds (langi). The Caroline Islanders constructed basalt enclosures, platforms, and tombs, and on the Mariana Islands, massive stone pillar foundations (latte) supported raised chiefly houses.

Hawaii and New Zealand: Varying Social Responses to Environmental Constraints Eastern Polynesian development is related to local environment. Settlers brought domesticated plants and animals to the lush Hawaiian Islands, and resulting population growth led to ranked chiefdoms. Eventually, several such societies were unified by force into a single kingdom in the 19th century. Archaeology reflects this development clearly through religious structures (heiau), villages, field systems, and rock-carvings.

New Zealand is larger and temperate, rich in the north but nearly outside agricultural limits in the south, creating two different social outcomes. In the north, warlike chiefdoms with a population of perhaps 100,000 competed for farmland, constructing over 5000 fortified earthwork enclosures (pa) in agriculturally rich regions. Southern Maoris hunted and gathered until depletion occurred, then cultivated American sweet potato, with the dog as their only domesticate. Their population remained sparse.

The Chiefdoms of Polynesia: Comparative Ethnographic Perspectives 18th and 19th-century eyewitness observations plus oral histories and genealogies provide clues to prehistory, but are disputed due to the impacts of contact. They suggest that pre-contact Polynesian societies were of many types, from simple to complex, reflecting island size, degree of isolation, and environment.

Theories of Social Evolution Marshall Sahlins ordered Polynesian societies by degree of social stratification, reflecting differing levels of food production and feasting. Irving Goldman presented a similar ranking; both are supported archaeologically: the largest monuments are associated with the largest and most centralized chiefdoms.

Patrick Kirch emphasized that conquest and paramount chieftainship did not always originate in fertile, densely populated regions, but from stressed environments. Nicholas Thomas describes how environmental poverty, drought, and overpopulation reduced some chiefdoms to warring polities dominated by shamans.

Around the western Pacific rim, contact with India, the Mediterranean, and China had social and religious impacts, such as the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism, seaborne trading activities, and the spread of ironworking and bronzeworking as empires in China developed and traded for tropical products. Urban settlements appeared in Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, but never in the Pacific Islands east of New Guinea. Instead, there was an active long-distance trade between them.
    During the 1st millennium AD, Austronesian societies were transformed into complex societies, though local cultures continued to evolve, seen archaeologically through local styles of bronze axes, drums, ornaments, stone-carvings, and mortuary materials. After AD 1200 Islam, the Portuguese, and the Dutch arrived. The Southeast Asian islands thus experienced very different historical trajectories from the Pacific Islands during the past 2000 years.

Box Features

Key Site: Barlambidj: Aboriginal Contact with Southeast Asia
Key Site: Beinan and the Jade Trade
Key Site: Talepakemalai and Teouma
Key Controversy: Explaining Technological Change in Australia
Key Controversy: Why Did the Tasmanians Stop Eating Fish?
Key Controversy: The Origins of the Austronesians
Key Controversy: The Origins of Lapita
Key Controversy: Expert Navigation or Sheer Good Luck?
Key Controversy: Causes Of Landscape Change
Key Controversy: Easter Island And South America
Key Discovery: Early Farming in the New Guinea Highlands
Key Site: South Molle Quarry: Aboriginal Foragers at the End of the Ice Age

Key words and terms Chapter 8

Environmental changes
rising seas
island creation
marine food resources
broad spectrum subsistence

King Island
Kangaroo Island
Arnhem Land
Whitsunday Islands

Southeast Asia and Oceania
New Zealand
Lesser Sundas
New Guinea
Near Oceania
Solomon Islands
Remote Oceania
Santa Cruz Islands
New Caledonia
Mariana Islands
Caroline Islands
Hawaiian Islands
Society Islands
Marquesas Islands
Easter Island (Rapa Nui)
Cook Islands
Austral Islands
Tuamotu Islands

Moreton Bay
Kenniff Cave
Bass Strait Islands
Mount Cameron West
Wilgie Mia
Lake Moondarra
Lake Eyre
McArthur Creek
Allambie, High Cliffy Island

Southeast Asia and Oceania
Niah Cave
Tabon Cave
Gua Sireh cave
Bukit Tengkorak
Magapit and Nagsabaran
Nan Madol

Rainbow Serpent
expansion of burial grounds
rock art: battles, resource change, religious change, territoriality
Aboriginal trade networks
population rise
population nucleation
European contact

Southeast Asia and Oceania
Homo erectus as contributors to modern gene pool
The Austronesian Dispersal
boat-borne human diaspora
Taiwanese homeland
"bottleneck" losses
"the wet and the dry"
founding as a high-status activity
sea-borne trade with Asia
introduction of metal

Lapita cultural complex
Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam

outrigger canoes
standardized, finely made stone implements
backed artifacts
earth mounds, low stone walls
eel traps
European technologies: metal, dugouts

Southeast Asia and Oceania
Hoabinhian industries
Toalian industries
Neolithic Austronesians
red-slipped and stamped pottery, stone adzes, rice, pigs, dogs, chickens
Lapita: stone adzes, stone chisels, shell adzes, shell ornaments, trolling and angling, fishhooks, obsidian; stilt houses, earth ovens
"bottleneck" losses: rice, millet, and loom weaving, ceramic
Polynesia: aceramic, double sailing canoe, barkcloth, stone adze, terraced-field and canal-fed taro irrigation, palisaded earthwork fortification
moai, ahu, Rano Raraku
earthwork fortifications

Southeast Asia and Oceania
New Guinea highlands: drained swamp agriculture
taro, yams, bananas, sugarcane, pigs, American sweet potato
Lowland New Guinea, endemic malaria
Lapita: horticultural and maritime, pigs, fowl, and dogs;
taro, coconut, candlenut, pandanus, canarium nut

John Mulvaney
Harry Lourandos
Tsang Cheng-hwa
Marshall Sahlins
Irving Goldman
Patrick Kirch
Nicholas Thomas
Thor Heyerdahl

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