The Archaeology of Diversity
In a 1997 review, archaeologist Harry Lourandos argued that archaeological and ethnographic studies have added to our awareness of the pre-colonial diversity in the economies, social arrangements and technologies of Aboriginal civilisation:
'... Aboriginal Australia was more populous and culturally more varied and complex than [has] hitherto been appreciated.
South-eastern Australia, for example, was both richer in natural resources and more populous than previously considered. Complex use and manipulation of plant foods and fish in the south-east provided a strong economic base, with population densities, patterns of sedentism and social complexity at least equalling those along fertile tropical and sub-tropical coastlines.
Social networks criss-crossed the continent, with extensive and complex alliance systems developed in south-eastern Australia, where there was an emphasis upon social 'closure' and the development of 'super' networks incorporating large numbers of people. Relatively more 'open' social networks formed in more environmentally stressful regions, such as arid areas. Leadership and power relations associated with inter group mediation and access to ritual, land, resources, wives and the relations of production (to name but a few elements) were also more complex than previously appreciated, and especially (though not exclusively) so in more fertile regions...
Economic specialisation is apparent in tropical coastal areas, and on particular offshore islands, with an emphasis on exploiting marine resources, such as the hunting of dugong and turtle, offshore fishing, extensive fish traps, and specialised marine equipment, such as canoes and fishing gear (harpoons and fishhooks). Specialised coastal and inland fishing, including a wide variety of techniques and equipment (nets, weirs, traps, and large-scale artificial drainage systems) were employed in the better-watered stretches of the continent, including the tropical north, east and south-eastern temperate Australia. Specialised net hunting (and birding) was also employed in some areas.
Plant foods were intensively and extensively harvested, processed, and in some cases managed and stored, in all major environmental zones, including arid regions... Emphasis was placed on roots and tubers in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate zones, and seeds (including grass seeds) in more arid and semi-arid areas.
In all, Aboriginal Australians possessed a very wide range of equipment and techniques.
Settlement appears to have been more sedentary in more fertile regions, such as the tropical and sub-tropical coastlines and in temperate south-eastern Australia, correlating closely with increased Aboriginal population sizes and densities...
[W]hile Aboriginal patterns were closely associated with regional environmental factors they were not determined by them. For example, while specialised marine practices developed in north eastern Australia and its offshore islands, practices in the rich north western Australian islands were less specialised... Each region had its own particular recent cultural 'signature' and history.'
Keywords: archaeology, cultural preservation, culture, custom, fishing, hunting
Lourandos, H 1997, 'Continent of hunter-gatherers: New perspectives in Australian prehistory', pp 76-8. Reproduced with the permission of Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor
Source: Lourandos, Harry