Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Australoid variability

It has been established that there was a large amount of morphological variability among Pleistocene Australians, from the gracile to the robust at the other end of the continuum. It has been suggested that the morphological variability among the late Pleistocene populations of Australia resulted from genetic mutation, drift and selection, as the migrants moved into new environments.

The present Australian Aboriginal People are among the most morphologically diverse peoples in the world. Now that a lot of evidence from the Pleistocene in Australia has been studied it seems that diversity has been present a long time, in fact it was more pronounced in the past.

Joseph Birdsell and Norman Tindale proposed 3 migrations during the Pleistocene of Oceanic Negritos, Murrayians and Carpentarians. The Tasmanians were considered by them to be Oceanic Negritos, based mainly on their small stature and spiral hair. 12 Aboriginal tribes from the rainforests of north Queensland were also believed by Birdsell and Tindale to be of this type. Analysis of skeletons of these people failed to show any negrito components among the rainforest Aboriginal People. Genetic studies have shown that pygmy peoples are not racially distinct from other non-pygmy groups, but rather are more probably adaptations to their environment.

In Tasmania analysis of skeletal remains from 3 sites, King Island, West Point Midden and Mount Cameron West, show no differences between them and contemporary Pleistocene peoples in the mainland. Any differences between modern Tasmanian Aboriginal People and those on the mainland are now believed to have arisen during the 10,000 years of isolation from the mainland after the sea rose to cover the plains joining the island to the mainland.

Birdsell's Carpentarians are now thought to have resulted from mixing with non-Aboriginal peoples from the north. People from Indonesia, e.g., Macassan traders,  had been trading with the Aboriginal People long before the arrival of Europeans in Australia.

There is still no general consensus among anthropologists on most features of Australian Aboriginal People, apart from 2 facts, they are Homo sapiens, and there was a great deal of variability among the Pleistocene populations. They are yet to explain large amount of cranial variation in Pleistocene populations, and the more archaic appearance of some early Australian Homo sapiens.


Sources & Further reading

  1. Josephine Flood, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, J.B. Publishing, 2004
  2. Phillip J. Habgood & Natilie R. Franklin, The revolution that didn't arrive: A review of Pleistocene Sahul, Journal of Human Evolution, 55, 2008
Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 30/09/2011
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