Australia’s Ice Age: How Indigenous Australians Survived

First Footprints Part 2

SBS (2013)

Film Review

The second episode covers Australia’s ice age between 25,000  and 13,000 BC. Unlike prehistoric Europeans, who migrated to south during their ice age, indigenous Australians found ingenious ways to survive both the cold and the most severe drought in human history.

Both cave paintings and fossil remains indicate that indigenous Australians were hunting gigantic megafauna (massive kangaroos twice the size of humans and giant crocodiles, lizards and marsupial bears) prior to the Australian ice age. Scientists believe it was more likely the ice age that wiped them out than early aborigines.

Although temperatures reached as low as 20 degrees below zero, up until 15,000 BC early Australians (and the prey they hunted) accessed water via lakes from from glacial melt. After the lakes dried up, they compiled an extensive record (referred to as “the law” or “dreaming*” and transmitted orally and via cave drawings) of where to locate underground water in the desert and when it would be there.

Fossil records suggest indigenous Australians underwent a major dietary change during their ice age, shifting from from fruit and macropods (kangaroos, wallabies and related mammals) to reptiles, bush tomatoes and a kind of bread they made from grinding grass seed.

*Dreaming refers to a complex cultural phenomena in which aboriginals connect with their Spirit Ancestors though stories, ceremony and art to preserve the essential knowledge they need to survive.

Indigenous Australians: a 60,000 Year-Old Culture

First Footprints Part 1 Super Nomads

SBS (2013)

Film Review

This is an amazingly beautiful documentary series about the early 60,000 year old culture of indigenous Australians. According to archeologists, indigenous Australians were the first people to leave Africa 70,000 years ago. They traveled along the coast of Asia and presumably reached Australia around 60,000 years ago. The remains of Mungo Man, discovered in New South Wales in 1969, was determined by carbon dating to be 42,000 years old. This makes it the oldest human skeleton discovered outside of Africa.

Surprisingly, it’s only in the last decade that archeologists have been studying the culture in which Mungo Man lived. They have only recently discovered cave paintings of flightless birds that became extinct 40,000 years ago, as well as enormous stone shelters carved out by his contemporaries and ground edge knives and axes.*

They have also discovered a network of cave maps extending more than 1000 meters (through the Australian desert) depicting the location of hidden underground water holes. It appears these networks were used for trade, arranged marriages and settling disputes between neighboring tribal groups.

This archeological evidence suggests that by 30,000 BC indigenous Australians had expanded right across the Australian continent with a a well developed kinship system and cosmology of religious beliefs.

*This technology only appeared in Europe 10,000 years ago.