Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

The Dingo - Domesticated Dogs

The associated technology and timing of the death of the Narrabeen man, whatever the context or reason for his death, suggests, according to Cane1, a general conclusion: that there was a particularly turbulent time in the middle of the Holocene. The indication from the archaeological evidence is that people were seeking efficiencies and security in a time of social adjustment, at a time when territories were being redefined, and congruent with the rising sea. It was a time of social evolution, and their technology was also evolving, and around the continent the people were on the move. The available space was being demarcated more rigidly and most resources were being exploited more efficiently. It was at this time that mechanisms of food storage were developed, food was domesticated and its production was improved. Around the world people were experiencing the same problems, becoming more sedentary, and more aware of the limits of their territory and necessity rights, and they developed ways of protecting both. Around the world populations of humans were experiencing the problems, the loss of land, increased isolation and geographic fragmentation. It was at this time that the Americas were separated from the Euro-Russia continent. In Indonesia to the north of Australia the loss of land was even more extensive than in Australia. Though Australia lost about 1/3 of its land mass Indonesia lost about 2/3 of its land mass. In ancient Indonesia the vast glacial landmass was reduced from 6 million km2 to less that 2 million km2 across 13,000 islands. This must have had a large effect on the populations of humans around Indonesia, probably with some of the displaced people moving to Australia.

Evidence has been found of at least 2 such migrations in the Holocene. The first of these occurred about 7,000 BP, and among the people arriving from Indonesia was at least 1 person who was carrying a  neurodegenerative disease, Machado-Joseph disease. The only part of Australia where this disease is found at present is in communities in eastern Arnhem Land. This disease, that it localised to Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria and Yirrkala on the Gove Peninsula, which indicated that the people from Indonesia arrived at this place and have remained there.

The second migration was at about 5,000 BP. It is known this migration arrived at that time because it was then that the dingo, or Asian dog, arrived in Australia. The dingoes quickly spread across Australia by 3,000 BP, an all-purpose dog, they soon became family pets, hunting companions, as well as food. Based on genetic studies they appear to have been domesticated dogs from southeastern Asia, the Australian population appearing to have descended from a few individuals that arrived with the 5,000 BP migration. Soon after the arrival of the dingo the mainland population of thylacines were extinct by about 3,300 years ago. Cane1 suggests the disappearance of one and the arrival of the other are probably linked, directly, as the dingoes hunted in packs, possibly outcompeting the thylacine, and indirectly as an added strain in a continent already under strain from a changing climate and more effective predation and the likely conjunction of people and dingoes in hunting teams.

Sources & Further reading

  1. Cane, Scott, 2013, First Footprints: The epic story of the first Australians, Allen & Unwin

Scott Cane has included in his book, written as a companion to the ABC TV series of the same name, a number of stories from his days living among Aboriginal people in the desert and moving around with them.


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated  23/12/2013
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