Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

New England's big screen highlights


Old Main Street, Raymond Terrace: Filming for Tomorrow, When the War Began

A few months ago, New England born writer and comedian Carlo Ritchie oganised New England expatriate/New State drinks at a pub in Sydney’s Redfern. The idea was to bring us together across interests and generations, to create a centre where we could talk about New England matters from film to food to beer and all things beyond.

It wasn’t a big group, these things take time to evolve, but I couldn’t help noticing just how many film makers, actors and dramatists there were.

We don’t have a proper history of New England film, indeed most people don’t even know that there is such a thing. In 2006 when film writer Neil Rattigan wrote his pioneering piece on New England film in High Lean Country, he identified ten feature films with New England connections.

I have been digging around in the ten years since Neil wrote. I use a broader definition of New England, but have now identified 29 feature films with some New England connection from the rather ramshackle 1921 Guyra Ghost Mystery to P J Hogan’s 2012 production, Mental.

When I look at the time distribution of the films, we have one on the 1920s, two in the 1930s, then just one in the 1940s. In the 1950s when the Australian film industry was down, there were actually four including Armidale filmed Captain Thunderbolt.

The 1960s saw just one film, Koya No Toseinin (The Drifting Avenger). Filmed on location at Nundle, this Japanese western starred Ken Takakura, the Clint Eastwood of Japanese film., seeking revenge for his murdered family. The movie was apparently never released in Australia, but I am told that it is available on YouTube. .

The 1970s saw six films, then just one the following decade. Production picked up in the 1990s with three films, six in the 2000s, with four so far in the 2010s. In all, its quite a lot.

A number of the films have absolutely nothing to do with New England beyond incidental filming.

Ken Halls’ 1937 Lovers and Luggers is a rollicking adventure melodrama about a lounge lizard and pianist who is sent on a quest to Thursday Island to retrieve a pearl for a girl.

What could be more reasonable than that? It’s a 1937 chick flick! Needless to say, the girl was not worth his love, but he does find true love in the process.

The only connection between Lovers and Luggers and New England is that a few scenes were shot in Port Stephens.

That was 1937. Many years later, I visited Raymond Terrace. I hadn’t been there before. We were on our way to Armidale, introducing a friend to New England.

Over a picnic lunch near the pioneer museum, wine and pate and meats and breads, I explained that I wanted to find the main street location where Tomorrow, When the war Began (2010) was shot.

Later we found it. Like Lovers and Luggers, the only connection between this film and New England is location. But it makes life so much richer because I can see the interconnections. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 August 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Nature: An early modern human presence in Sumatra 73,000–63,000 years ago

A letter published in Nature by K E Westaway et al, An early modern human presence in Sumatra 73,000–63,000 years ago, (Nature (2017) doi:10.1038/nature23452 Received 30 March 2017 Accepted 29 June 2017 Published online 09 August 2017) reports that scientists have now accurately dated two human teeth first discovered in the Lida Ajer cave on the island of Sumatra in the late 19th century, showing modern humans were living there between 73,000 and 63,000 years ago.

Background information is provided in a piece by Kira Westaway in the Conversation, Old teeth from a rediscovered cave show humans were in Indonesia more than 63,000 years ago.

The results are interesting for two reasons. Thirst is that they are consistent with the 65,000+/5,000 date for the recent Madjedbebe rock shelter date in Kakadu. Secondly, they are the oldest raif forrest date in the world.

.There are a couple of odd things that I didn't understand about the piece in the Conversation. I just note this now without amplification as a reminder to come back to to issue.  

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Patersons and their artistic legacy

Frozen Moment. A National Library of Australia photo of Esther Paterson
One of the best known paintings in the Hinton Collection, Esther Paterson’s The Yellow Glove also known as Portrait of Betty Paterson, is now on tour as part of the NERAM travelling exhibition. Esther entered the painting in the Archibald Prize competition in 1938. She didn't win, but the following year Howard Hinton purchased the arresting portrait for his Armidale Teachers' College collection.

I have known this painting since childhood because the Armidale Teachers’ College was just up the road and I went there quite often. The paintings in the Hinton Collection were everywhere, hanging in the hallways and the lecture theatres.

I was probably seven when I first saw it. It is a piece of art that I really like, but I knew nothing about either Esther or Betty Paterson. Investigating, I find that they were members of one of those artistic families that Melbourne seems to specialise in.

Our story begins in Scotland with John Ford Paterson and his wife Elizabeth, née Stewart. I have no information on John Ford Paterson nor on Elizabeth, but the family was clearly artistic with the three oldest boys all completing initial artistic training in Scotland.

In 1872, the Paterson boys decided to emigrate en-mass to Melbourne. Sister Mary Jane followed in 1881 after the death of her husband with her young son, the future Australian poet and dramatist Thomas Louis Buvelot Esson.

Marvellous Melbourne was booming. In 1880 the population reached 280,000, then 445,000 in 1889. Money flowed like water, and a fair bit of that went to Paterson Bros, the interior design business established by the eldest boy Charles Stewart with his brothers. One of their best known projects was the interior design for William Greenlaw’s Villa Alba, now a Melbourne museum.

Hugh Paterson, Esther and Betty's father, was born in Scotland in 1856 and, like his brothers, attended the Royal Scottish Academy schools. In addition to his work with Paterson Bros, both he and brother John quickly became prominent Melbourne artists, active in the cultural politics of the time.

The Paterson studio managed by Hugh became an artistic centre. Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher whose office was next door liked to drop in. This led, among other things, to the imposition of tariffs on imported paintings and the establishment of the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board.

Ester Paterson was born in 1892, Betty Paterson in 1895 to Hugh and wife Elizabeth. Both were prodigies who played with, mixed with and trained with the elite of Melbourne's bohemian set. Both were talented artists, cartoonists and writers who went on to long artistic careers.

I think that the thing I notice most about their work are the lines, the colours and the simplicity. Their work is quite striking, part of the Art Deco scene. Betty in particular became artist by appointment to the flappers, both captured the resonance of the 1920s.  
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 August 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

More DNA data, the impact of cold on human survival

In the constant turmoil that is modern prehistory I missed this September 2016 Nature paper, The Simons Genome Diversity Project: 300 genomes from 142 diverse populations. The abstract reads:
Here we report the Simons Genome Diversity Project data set: high quality genomes from 300 individuals from 142 diverse populations. These genomes include at least 5.8 million base pairs that are not present in the human reference genome. Our analysis reveals key features of the landscape of human genome variation, including that the rate of accumulation of mutations has accelerated by about 5% in non-Africans compared to Africans since divergence. We show that the ancestors of some pairs of present-day human populations were substantially separated by 100,000 years ago, well before the archaeologically attested onset of behavioural modernity. We also demonstrate that indigenous Australians, New Guineans and Andamanese do not derive substantial ancestry from an early dispersal of modern humans; instead, their modern human ancestry is consistent with coming from the same source as that of other non-Africans.
Cold, cold, cold. That was the story of long periods of the hominid past. In a comment in Current Anthropology, Robert Hosfield responds to criticisms of his work on the impact of cold on the human species, including especially the possible impact of hypothermia as compared to frostbite.  It seems to come back to questions of clothing as compared to other physiological modifications. I had only seen references to this controversy, how did early hominids survive with poor tool kits and limited clothing, in very cold environments?  This popular piece provides a 2016 input reporting on Horsfield's work.

 Wikipedia piece on this issue points to the disagreements but also suggests that it was rather a long time ago.
One of the issues is the date of the domestication of fire. Many of the presentations such has this Wikipedia diorama are actually very stylized. This example will make you shiver!

 I think the reality is threefold: the human body has considerable capacity to adapt if it is given time; if you have fire and shelter, you can get warm or at least warmer when external conditions are very harsh;  and you may have access to skins or other coverings to keep you warm.

All these things have then to be adjusted to local conditions. For example, you will not go outside if a blizzard is raging unless you absolutely have to. So you will store food if you can to accommodate.  This may be no more than leaving it outside if temperatures are that low.

Your age also determines your response to climatic extremes. If you are younger, it is easier to cope. people may just die earlier.

This total mix determines the group's response It's important from the viewpoint of Australian history because it helps us make judgement about the impact of the Last Glacial Maximum.The Aborigines survived in Tasmania in glacial conditions. Clearly, they had the culture and equipment to respond, although it may have reduced populations and life expectancy. Beyond this, we just don't know what the actual story was.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Forming the unique Anaiwan language

Separation: Squeezed between larger language groups, the Anaiwan language evolved different because of their need to preserve culture, territory and separate identity.This is the eight and last in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.


Last week I suggested that as the Last Glacial Maximum eased, the Tablelands were reoccupied by two main groups.

From the south came Dainggatti speakers from the Macleay Valley. We don’t have dates, but from the pattern of the dates that we do have this probably took place about 5,000 years ago.

As the Dainggatti speakers spread north following the watershed , they coincided with settlers from the Northern Rivers and especially the Clarence/Nymboida river system, the Gumbaingirr speakers, who had followed the rivers upstream and effectively occupied significant parts of the Tablelands. Further north, there was Bandjalung expansion, but this appears to have been less pronounced.

But why did the Anaiwan language then diverge so much from its coastal origins? To understand why this might have happened, we need to return to Terry Crowley’s language map. I note that the language boundaries on the map are indicative only and do not indicate exact boundaries.

Crowley suggested that the language north of Armidale described by McPherson as Enneewin was not the same as that further south because it included lexical items borrowed from Gumbaingirr, whereas the language further south did not.

I think that’s incorrect. Although Anaiwan varied greatly from north to south, we can reasonably think of it as a single language, in part because of geography, in part because Crowley himself concluded that the northern and southern languages had a 65 per cent common lexicon. It makes perfect sense that Enneewin or Northern Anaiwan should be a distinct dialect with Gumbaingirr inclusions given the two language groups were side by side.

If we now look at Southern Anaiwan, Crowley’s Nganjaywana with its dialects of Inuwon and Himberrong, you can see a very distinct pattern. In the far south, Himberrong adjoined Gamilaraay in the south and west, Birbay in the south east plus Dainggatti in the east.

Inuwon, by contrast, adjoined Himberrong in the south, Ennewin in the north, both Dainggatti and Gumbaingirr in the east and Gamilaraay in the west. That’s a lot of languages in both cases.

Part of the reason that Crowley put forward for the evolution of Anaiwan as such a distinct language lay in the existence of the secret Anaiwan language identified by Mathews. This, Crowley suggested, reduced the need to borrow from other languages when words fell out of use as a consequence of things such as deaths.

This is possible. However, a simpler explanation lies in the geography described above.

Occupying relatively small territories squeezed between other bigger language groups, the Southern Anaiwan in particular became isolated because of the need to preserve their land and culture.

There is at least some fragmentary evidence to support this view in the archeological and ethnographic record as well as Aboriginal memories. However, that will have to wait to a later series.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 July 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

The lessons and questions from Madjedbebe

The  results from the latest excavations at the Madjedbebe rockshelter in Kakadu near Jabiru in the Northern Territory are truly remarkable. In reporting, I am taking the unusual step of directly repeating much of the piece in The Conversation by Chris Clarkson, Ben Marwick, Lynley Wallis, Richard Fullagar and Zenobia Jacobs reporting the results, adding my own comments as I go along.

To my mind, it is a very good piece of public science reporting. I also like the way the authors have included so many links to previous work. My comments should be read as those of a reasonably well informed amateur interested in the implications for his own area of study,

In addition to the piece in The Conversation, there are a number of news reports that contain supplementary information. These include:
The text begins

"The question of when people first arrived in Australia has been the subject of lively debate among archaeologists, and one with important consequences for the global story of human evolution. Australia is the end point of early modern human migration out of Africa, and sets the minimum age for the global dispersal of humans.

This event was remarkable on many fronts, as it represented the largest maritime migration yet undertaken, the settlement of the driest continent on Earth, and required adaptation to vastly different flora and fauna.

Although it is well known that anatomically modern humans were in Africa before 200,000 years ago and China around 80,000 years ago, many archaeologists believe that Australia was not occupied until 47,000 years ago.

But our research, published today in Nature, pushes back the timing of this event to at least 65,000 years ago.

Together with the Mirrar Aboriginal people, our team excavated the Madjedbebe rockshelter in Kakadu, near Jabiru in Australia’s Northern Territory.(Map from Science). A small excavation in 1989 at this site had proposed evidence for human activity in Australia at 60,000-50,000 years ago.

But some archaeologists have been reluctant to accept this age. Some pointed to the sandy deposit at the site and argued that the artefacts may have been easily moved down into older layers by trampling or burrowing animals.

Others said the measured ages for the archaeological sediments were not precise enough to support a date of 50,000 years, rather than 45,000 years ago.

Since those excavations in the 1980s, the debate has intensified. Analysis of DNA from the hair of an Aboriginal man who lived 100 years ago suggests that Aboriginal Australians separated from early Asian populations some times between 62,000 and 75,000 years ago.

On the other hand, climate records have implicated humans in megafaunal population collapse at 45,000 to 43,100 years ago, a time frame that had been presumed to correlate with humans’ arrival in Australia."

Comment

Dating issues are discussed later in The Conversation piece. The date of 65,000 years is actually plus or minus 5,000 years, so I would be cautious in automatically attaching a higher figure than 65,000 year; 60,000 is the safest number, but may well get older.

Even at 60,000 years, it is still a remarkable number. I have been using 50,000 years as the approximate benchmark for human settlement of Sahul, but will now have to take 65,000 as my working number based on 60,000 plus time to get to the site and colonise the area.

We can think of the implications of this number from two perspectives, what it says about hominid migration and mixing in African and Eurasia, what it says about the settlement of Sahaul.  

I was unaware of the Chinese discoveries. At this point, and based only on the Nature report, some care needs to be exercised in interpreting these results. In another earlier date, palaeoanthropologist Michael Westaway of Griffith University is quoted referring to archaeological evidence that humans may have been in the Near East 110,000 years ago.

It seems clear based on the flood of recent results is that the spread of homo sapiens was wider and earlier than previously realised, as was the overlapping between modern humans and other hominid species. .

One thing that concerns me, and I lack the specialist expertise to know whether my concern is valid, is what appears to be a growing discrepancy between dating results based on DNA models and those from other dating methods. If the Aborigines were well established in Sahul by 65,000 years ago, then it seems reasonable to assume that they left Africa earlier than the 72,000 date suggested by some DNA analysis.

Within Australia, the latest dates appear to widen the time period during which Sahul was settled, widening the gap between this date and southern dates. I have argued that quick expansion was possible, but a longer time period does seem reasonable. However, the results do raise questions in my mind about the exact pattern of settlement of Sahul.

If I remember correctly, the earlier DNA studies showed a north west gradient from Cape York to South West Australia. This was interpreted as supporting coastal migration in both west and east from the original group or groups. In the east, my view has been that migration could well have come along the slopes of the Great Dividing Range instead of or as well as the coast. I also read the material as suggesting that that the Papuans and Aborigines came from a single stock that then diverged. This could be accommodated via settlement on Sahul in either what is now PNG or Australia and then spread or separate migrations from a common stock to different points.

The latest results have raised all sorts of questions in my mind:
  • How widespread in what is now South East Asia were were the Aboriginal precursors? Was it just small groups, that has been an implicit assumption, or did they occupy significant territory?
  • What happened to the Aborigines who remained behind? Were they supplanted by later arrivals? 
  • Did something trigger migration or was it just search for the new, natural migration?
  • Were there several migration to different or the same spots separated in time? 

One thing that does stand out from the results is the apparent sophistication of the early tool kit and the life implied by that. These people were already in control of their environment, living an apparently sophisticated hunter/gatherer life style. I think that's very important. It's a reasonably assumption that their precursors were more advanced as well than has sometimes been assumed. I think that this requires a change in our thinking in terms of both the options open to them and their capacity to meet new challenges.

Text Continues

To make new research possible, a landmark agreement was reached between the University of Queensland (and associated researchers) and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation representing the Mirarr traditional owners of the site.

The agreement gave ultimate control over the excavation to the Mirarr senior custodians, with oversight of the excavation and curation of the material. The Mirarr were interested to support new research into the age of the site and to know more about the early evidence of technologies thought to be present there.

New digs, new dates

In 2012 and 2015 our team excavated an area of 20 square metres at Madjedbebe. We found artefacts in three distinct layers of occupation.

Among the artefacts in the lowest levels we found many pieces used for seed grinding and ochre “crayons” that were used to make pigments. Our large excavation area allowed us to pick up very rare items, such as the world’s oldest known edge-ground hatchets and world’s oldest known use of reflective pigment.

During the excavations we recorded the three-dimensional coordinates of more than 10,000 stone artefacts using a laser total station. This device sits on a tripod and uses a laser and prism to record the location of artefacts and other features at millimetre accuracy, thus giving a very precise record of artefact position and layering.

We analysed these coordinates to test previous criticisms that artefacts may have moved a lot in the sand. We found some broken artefacts that we could fit back together, and by measuring the distance between these pieces we can understand how far artefacts have moved.

We also conducted an experiment to observe the movement of artefacts on the ground when people walked over them. These results allow us to respond to the earlier critics with data that point to a relatively small amount of movement, not enough to mix artefacts between the three distinct layers of occupation that we found in our excavations.

During the excavation we collected many kinds of samples for specialised analyses, including more than 100 samples for dating. We used both radiocarbon dating and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) methods to find the ages of the artefacts. Because radiocarbon dating is limited to samples younger than 50,000 years ago, we relied on OSL to help us find the ages of the lower part of the site.

OSL methods estimate the time elapsed since sand grains were last exposed to sunlight. Australian archaeologists have been wary of OSL methods because often in the past OSL involved sand grains measured together in a little group, resulting in ages that were not very accurate.

To get more precise ages, we measured thousands of sand grains individually, rather than in a group. We also had another lab analyse some samples to make sure our results were reliable. The result is that we have a convincing age for the settlement of Madjedbebe, and Australia, of 65,000 years ago.

Comment

I think that this section illustrates the remarkable changes that have taken place in the multidisciplinary science that archaeology has become. The use of laser scanning popularised by the TV Programme Time Scanners allows accurate measurement of the placement of objects; the team used ground penetrating radar to survey the area before digging a-la Time Team; while the use of OSL dating requires high technology science.

It is not possible for the non-specialist in these technical areas to make sensible judgments on detail beyond noting that the scientific method applied seems quite rigorous. It is possible for the non-technical observer to make judgments about the extent to which results seem to diverge from other evidence. In this context, the results while interesting and important do not seem to conflict with what we already know. In that sense, they pass the academic pub test!

Text

These new dates throw light on a few puzzles in the overall picture of human evolution.

Our ages suggest that modern humans and Homo floresiensis in eastern Indonesia may have co-existed for 15,000 years. This means that the arrival of modern humans did not necessarily cause other ancient human-like species to become extinct.

If it’s the case that people have lived in Australia since 65,000 years ago, it may also be true that humans and megafauna co-existed for 20,000 years before megafauna went extinct across the continent.

Until now we knew very little about the technology and lifestyles of the first Aboriginal people. The oldest artefacts from Madjedbebe help to tell this story. They indicate that the earliest Aboriginal inhabitants of Australia were innovative people who – like humans everywhere on earth – developed solutions to new problems and engaged in symbolic and artistic expression.

We found evidence for the mixing of ochre with reflective powders made from ground mica to make a vibrant paint. Currently the oldest known rock art in the world is dated to 40,000 years ago in Sulawesi (a possible stepping stone to Australia). But the abundant ground ochre and use of mica indicates that artistic expression took place in the region much earlier.

We also found new forms of stone tools such as edge ground hatchet heads (and even the grinding stones used to sharpen them), useful in cutting bark and wood, shaping wooden tools and extracting difficult to obtain foods from trees.

The grinding stones from the site indicate a range of fruits, seeds, animals and other plants were ground up for food. These are the oldest known examples of seed grinding stones found in Australia, if not the world.

In ancient fireplaces from the site we also recovered pieces of burnt pandanus nuts, fruit seeds and yams, which give us clues as to the earliest plant foods consumed at the site. Some of these foods continue to be eaten today by Mirarr and other Aboriginal people in the Top End.

Our new ages suggest that Australia was settled well before modern humans entered Europe about 45,000 years ago. This means that the earliest art and symbolism in Europe is of limited relevance to understanding modern technology and symbolic expression in South and Southeast Asia and Oceania.

Our results help to show the unique place of the Eastern hemisphere, and Australia in particular, in understanding how and where modern humans appeared.

Ends

Comment
Some of this material is very Australian-centric. The comparison with Europe and indeed the age of art is really neither here nor there. I would have thought it self evident that the earliest art and symbolism in Europe is of limited relevance to understanding modern technology and symbolic expression in South and Southeast Asia and Oceania, although comparisons from elsewhere can always provide clues and questions.

The Eastern hemisphere, and Australia in particular, may or may not have a unique place in understanding how and where modern humans appeared. I would have thought that that place was still occupied by Africa. What is important is the extent to which the discovery does two things:

  • provide further evidence on the dispersal of modern humans and their overlap with other hominids
  • further illuminate the history of Aboriginal Australia.
I think that it does both, it is a discovery of major importance. However, and I can't afford to read the original paper at the moment, my particular interest is what it tells us about Aboriginal history following arrival in Sahul. How does it add to, challenge our understanding?

This is where I have a degree of frustration with the reporting. So much is focused on the early date and the sophistication shown in the material remains. These are important, but what have we learned after arrival, how does this fit in with Aboriginal history after arrival?

We learn that there were thee intense occupation phases, with some differences between. We learn that the climate was cooler and wetter when the Aborigines came. We learn that there was little apparent difference in the vegetation over the millennia since first settlement; that surprised me. But it still doesn't really help us in writing a history of Aboriginal Australia where the real focus has to be the period after first arrival. Mind you, the material may be there, not just reported! Meantime, back to my more local focus.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Climate plays role in Aboriginal resettlement


Migration: The evidence suggests that the ancestors of the Anaiwan might have settled the tablelands from the Macleay Valley via the Falls country 5000 plus years ago.This is the seventh in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.

As the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) gripped the continent 21,000 years ago, the Aboriginal population was forced to adjust.

On the North Coast, the fall in sea levels destroyed the environment that had formed along the previous coastline. Today, we are used to thinking of the North Coast as a rich area in Aboriginal terms with its mix of sea, estuary, river and land resources. That may well not have been the case then.

The coastal shelf is often narrow and declines quite sharply. The falling sea levels destroyed the previous coastal environment and may have created a rugged coast line with increasingly cold waters, narrower rivers and smaller estuaries, a far less attractive environment than would exist later.

Inland, the Tablelands became sub-alpine, the arid zone widened, the inland lakes dried up, while the now smaller inland rivers wended their way across sandy plains. Faced by cold, very windy and dry conditions, the Aborigines probably retreated to refuge areas offering relatively better conditions.

The LGM began to ease around 15,000 years ago. Around this time, the North American ice sheets melted. Around 12,000 years ago, the Antarctic ice sheets began to shrink. The Holocene with its higher rainfall and warmer temperatures had begun.

The seas rose, reaching present levels around 6,000 years ago. The first effect of rising sea levels was to again destroy the immediate coastal environment. It took time for the spreading rivers to begin to create the rich estuarine environment we know today.

Archaeological dates begin to reappear: around 9,000 years in the Macleay Valley, 6,500 years at Seelands in the Clarence, 5,500 years at Graman on the Western Slopes. The oldest Tablelands date we have definitely associated with human settlement is around 4,300 years ago at Bendemeer. The Aboriginal society that the Europeans would find was forming.

Based on the date patterns as well as linguistic linkages, it presently appears that the Tablelands were resettled from the coast. Two streams were involved.

The first group came from the south through the Falls country from the new populations, the Dainggatti speakers, in the Macleay Valley. From there, they spread north.

As they spread, they coincided with settlers from the Northern Rivers and especially the Clarence/Nymboida river system, the Gumbaingirr speakers, who had followed the rivers upstream and effectively occupied significant parts of the Tablelands. Further north, there was Bandjalung expansion, but this appears to have been less pronounced.

The latter parts of the migration coincided with Gamilaraay expansion, creating an effective southern and western barrier. The end result was the very particular pattern of language distribution we see today, an elongated north-south pattern squeezed between east and west.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 19 July 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Voices of cultural landscape

CHANGING WORLD: During the Last Glacial Maximum, the Tablelands' climate became sub-alpine, sub-glacial. Trees actually vanished in many cases, replaced by tundra. This is the sixth in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.

The theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week celebrations has been Our Languages Matter, celebrating the role that Aboriginal language plays in cultural identity.

At the Uralla parade, Anaiwan elder Les Townsend said that continuing the Anaiwan language was important to him. “We have a lot of words, but we haven’t got the complete language yet.”

Uralla Shire Council Mayor Pearce said the language was a connection to law, family, history, religion, childcare, health, caring for country and more. “Each language is associated with an area of land and has a deep spiritual significance.” (AE 5 July 2107)

Mayor Pearce is correct.

Each Aboriginal group had its own language that linked with those around them like cells on a sheet of graph to form dialects and then bigger language groups. Each language covered the totality of human experience from the scared to the profane, from yarning around the camp fire to the language of love and relationship to that attached to the most important religious ceremonies.

Loss of language is a profound experience because it represents loss not just of language, but of the culture and tradition which that language expressed.

In this continuing series on the mystery of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, I have tried to interest you in the story of one Aboriginal language, to bring one limited part of the past alive. I said in my last column that I would conclude the series by looking at the reasons why Anaiwan changed to the point that that many considered it to be a totally separate language.

The account that follows is necessarily speculative, open to challenge.

The first Aboriginal settlers reached the continent called Sahul perhaps 50,000 years ago. By 30,000 years, they had spread across the entire continent, although total population numbers may not have been high by later standards.

Those first settlers experienced benign condition. Sea levels fluctuated greatly during the long Pleistocene period. Forty thousand years ago, sea levels were perhaps 50 metres below current levels, creating a broader coastal plain. Rainfall was high, temperatures moderate. Rivers running east and west from the Tablelands would have carried substantial volumes of water.

From perhaps 25,000 years ago, the local environment began to deteriorate becoming very dry and both intensely hot and intensely cold. This climatic regime peaked during what is called the Last Glacial Maximum, 21,000 to 15,000 years ago.

The sea retreated to perhaps 120 metres below current levels. It became colder, 2-4 degrees C below current levels. On land, mean monthly temperatures probably fell by 6-10 degrees C. Extensive inland dune building suggests that the climate become much windier.

The Tablelands area that would become the territory of the Anaiwan became sub-alpine, sub-glacial, in spots. It seems almost certain that the human population would have had to retreat.  
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 July 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Unravelling the Anaiwan language mystery


Macleay Valley, dance of defiance 1842: Language covers all aspects of life. As life changes, so does language.This is the fifth in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.

In an earlier column in this series on the story of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, I mentioned that languages change over time. They change in vocabulary, in pronunciation and in grammatical structures.

The Aboriginal group or groups who first entered Sahul, the name given to the larger continent combining Australia and Papua New Guinea when sea levels were much lower, spoke their own language. That language covered the full domain of life, from the detail of daily living to the ceremonial and religious.

As the Aborigines spread across their new continent, new words had to be added or existing words altered to cover the new things they found. They preserved their history through song and dance, through yarns told around the campfire, but inevitably things were lost as new experiences and ideas were added.

The very sound of language changed slowly over time and space. Part of this was due to language drift, the way language changed from one generation to the next over multiple generations, part to the addition of new words that were fitted in but still changed the way that people spoke.

We will never properly understand the pattern of these changes over the long millennia of Aboriginal occupation of the continent that would become Australia. However, linguists have developed rules that assist them to understand the ways in which languages might have changed.

In his work untangling the mysteries of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, Terry Crowley attempted to do two things.

First, he looked at the relationships between Anaiwan and the surrounding languages to define rules that might explain difference and relationships. In doing so, he was able to establish that Anaiwan fitted within the general corpus of surrounding Aboriginal languages and that it was most closely related to the coastal languages and especially Djangadi or Dhanggati, the language of the Macleay Valley.

This left him with a second question, why did Anaiwan vary in such a way as to become an apparently different language? This problem was especially complicated because of the apparent connections between the Djangadi and the Tableands’ languages further north,. Why was Anaiwan, the southern language, so different?

Crowley put the problem this way

The phonological changes in Anaiwan must have taken considerable some time ago to allow other Tablelands’ languages to add so much non-coastal material, to allow for the shifts in pronunciation.

The answer, he suggested, may have lain in the existence of a secret or mystical Anaiwan language, one independent of but parallel to the main language, that reduced the need for Anaiwan to borrow from other languages.

This secret language may well have existed, Mathews refers to it, but is not (I think) the most logical explanation. Rather, I think that the answer lies in geography and the pattern of climatic change.

I will explain this in my last columns in this series. 
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 5 July 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Neanderthal DNA gives timeline for modern human-related dispersal from Africa

During excavations near the entrance of Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in southwestern Germany in 1937 a 124,000 year old Neanderthal femur was discovered. Now its mitochondrial DNA was analyzed and provides a timeline for a suggested migration of hominins out of Africa before 220,000 years ago
More DNA stuff, this time from Past Horizon. I quote from the start of the article, Neanderthal DNA gives timeline for new modern human-related dispersal from Africa.
Ancient mitochondrial DNA from the femur of an archaic European hominin is helping to resolve the complicated relationship between modern humans and Neanderthals. The genetic data recovered by the research team, led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Tübingen, provides a timeline for a proposed hominin migration out of Africa that occurred after the ancestors of Neanderthals arrived in Europe by a lineage more closely related to modern humans. These hominins interbred with Neanderthals already present in Europe, leaving their mark on the Neanderthals’ mitochondrial DNA. The study, published in Nature Communications, (open access) pushes back the possible date of this event to between 470,000 and 220,000 years ago.

Sourced for later reference

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pioneering Anaiwan language studies

Brilliant linguist Gerhardt Laves (July 15, 1906 – March 14, 1993): His work over 1929-1931 on New England's Aboriginal languages lay undiscovered until 1981.This is the fourth in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.
Column one The man who cracked the Anaiwan code 
Column two Terry Crowley's hunt for traditional languages
Column three Northern Tableland's rich tapestry of traditional languages
In a Facebook comment on my previous column in this series on the story of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, Ndyiwaara Widders (a member of the Anaiwan Language Revival Group) mentioned the work of that remarkable American PhD student Gerhardt Laves.

Laves was the first person trained in modern linguistic field work and analysis to study Australian Aboriginal Languages. He came to Australia in August 1929.

Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown, then Professor of Anthropology at Sydney University, had asked the great University Chicago linguist Edward Sapir to undertake a study of the Australian languages. Sapir could nor come, but sent Laves instead.

.Over the next two years Laves studied and recorded languages across Australia beginning on the North Coast with Kumbaingeri (Gumbaynggir). As part of this, he collected material on Anaiwan and on Yugambal.

Laves was a meticulous worker, keeping detailed notes. All this material went back by ship with him when he returned to the US in August 1931.

Laves worked on the material, but married in 1932. This was the end of his studies. Instead, he focused on family and building a career with the International Harvester Company.

It was not until 1981 that University of Chicago anthropology student Mark Francillon heard about Laves while working with L R Hiatt at Maningrida. Returning to Chicago, Francillon contacted Laves who led him into an attic full of boxes of original manuscript material that had been untouched for decades.

The value of this work was truly astounding, to use David Nash’s words,. “in its detail, accuracy and insight”. The intensively studied languages are represented by texts on mythological beings which are given English translations as well as interlinear glossing. There are also hundreds of file cards, each covering one sentence of the texts, with additional notes and cross-references.

I have sidetracked into the story of Gerhardt Laves partly because it’s a good yarn that holds out hope that we will find more yet unknown material. Here Ndyiwaara Widders has issued a plea for us to keep an eye out for material that, no matter how small, might assist in understanding and reviving the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language.

I have sidetracked, too, because the Laves material was not available when Terry Crowley was cracking the Anaiwan mystery. I do not think that it invalidates his conclusions, but it does mean that we have additional material to work from that may affect elements of his analysis.

In my last two columns in this series, I will stick my neck out. Drawing from the work of Crowley and others, I will tell you the story of Aboriginal settlement of the Tablelands as I see it.
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 21 June 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Northern Tablelands' rich tapestry of traditional languages

Across the land. A map showing Northern Tablelands Aboriginal languages identified by Terry Crowley. This is the third in a series discussing the deciphering of the mysteries of New England's Anaiwan or Nganjaywana Aboriginal language.
Column two Terry Crowley's hunt for traditional languages
In my last column on the story of linguist Terry Crowley and the resolution of the mystery of the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language, I noted the quick collapse of the Northern Tablelands’ languages following European occupation.

This collapse was partially due to the speed of pastoral expansion, but also to the relatively small size of the Tablelands’ language groups compared to those in surrounding areas.

The first analysis of the economic structure of traditional Aboriginal life including estimates of population sizes across the broader New England were actually done by me a very long time ago now!

It is clear that I underestimated the size of the Aboriginal population. However, Tablelands’ populations were not high compared to the very large language groups to the east and west and were therefore more vulnerable to disruption,

This is reflected in the poor records we have for the Tablelands’ languages. We just don’t have a lot of information, something that frustrates those now working to revive the Anaiwan language.

A painstaking review...

Crowley began his work on by painstakingly reviewing the material that we did have on the various language groups. The map will help you understand his conclusions.

On the east, both Baanbay and Gamblamang were dialects of the Gumbaynggir language, a very large language group spoken from the southern banks of the Clarence down to and including the Nambucca Valley. Language boundaries broadly followed watersheds, allowing Gumbaynggir influence to extend deep into the Tablelands.

There are three identified languages on the northern parts of the Tablelands, Yugambal, Ngarbal and Marbal. Information on these languages is scanty. However, it appears that they were mutually intelligible in the same way that a speaker of Danish and Swedish might understand the other.

Crowley suggests that these languages were linked linguistically to Djangadi (Dainggatti), the Aboriginal language spoken in the Macleay Valley to the south of Gumbaynggir territory. There are also linkages through loan words to the adjoining Bandjalung language whose territory stretched from the northern banks of the Clarence into what is now southern Queensland.

A conundrum... 

The apparent linkage between these languages and Djangadi (Dainggatti) in the far south was and is a conundrum, for these northern Tablelands’ languages were separated from the Djangadi by apparently very different Tablelands’ languages that could not be understood by those further north.

Here Cowley identified two different language groups, the Ennewin around Guyra and then moving south the Inuwon followed by the Himberrong, two groups who spoke the Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language.

The Ennewin, Himberrong and Inuwon form the heart of the mystery we have been discussing. How and why were they different?
 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 14 June 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.