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

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Pacific Belshaws 3 - breaking into academic life

James Pilkington Belshaw at 18, Mayfield, South Island. He was now following brother Horace and sister May into teaching

In my first column in this series I said that the Pacific Belshaw were an academic family.

In 1983 my father took a certain pride that on his calculations the three children of James and Mary and their direct descendents had somehow managed to accumulate 27 university degrees, including seven doctorates. There were four university professors, a senior lecturer and two senior public servants among them.

As with many working class families in Australia and New Zealand, the teaching profession provided the initial vehicle for advancement.

Horace Belshaw. Described by John Maynard Keynes as the brightest student ever to come to Cambridge from the Dominions, Horace blazed the trail into teaching and then academic life. 
Horace was the first. He matriculated from Christchurch Boys' High School at 15 and went pupil-teaching at his old primary school until he was old enough, at 17, to go to training college. May followed Horace to the training college and then, with a lag, came the younger Jim. I will call him Jim from now on since that is how he was to be known in Armidale.

Horace was ambitious. Following war service, he enrolled for a BA at Canterbury College, studying extramurally. He had intended to focus on geology, but switched to economics under the influence of James Shelley and J. B. Condliffe.

Horace graduated in 1920 In that year he also married Marion Lilian McHardie, a nurse he met when she nursed him while he was recuperating in hospital. The couple would have two boys, Cyril in 1922 and then Michael in 1928.  

In 1921, Horace was awarded an MA with first-class honours for a thesis on the dairy industry. He was then offered and accepted a Workers Education Association/Cantebury College position to give tutorial class lecturer in economics, first on the West Coast of the South Island and then in Timaru,

The move upset his father who saw Horace giving away a secure teaching position for an insecure contract position. However, in 1924 Horace was awarded a scholarship to study at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge. There he came under the influence of J. M. Keynes who brought him into the vigorous discussions of the Political Economy Club.

In 1926, Horace completed his doctorate on agricultural fluctuations and published an important article based upon his research. He was appointed to a temporary lectureship at Cambridge in 1926–27 and then, at the age of 29, to the foundation chair of economics at Auckland University College.

Meantime, the much younger Jim was following a very similar path to his older brother. He had wanted to be a journalist, a move vetoed by a father already worried by his elder brother. Instead, he went to training college and then completed his BA extramurally while teaching.

Now he too enrolled in an MA. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 24 January 2018. 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, here 2018 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Pacific Belshaws 2 - arrival in New Zealand

Period portrait: James, Mary, May and Horace Belshaw, Platt Bridge 1905, taken just before James emigrated to New Zealand.

In July 1905, grandfather James Belshaw left Mary and the two children behind in Platt Bridge to seek a better life in New Zealand. He would send for them once he had established himself.

Some time in the months before his departure, James had a family photo taken. It is very much a period piece, reflecting the fashions of the time.

They are all wearing their best clothing. James looks relaxed. Mary holding daughter May looks stressed. Horace at the front holding the dog has an inquisitive look. A carpet hanging from the wall provides a backdrop, with a floral decoration to the left.

A little over 12 months later, James felt sufficiently well established to send for the family. They arrived in Christchurch around September 1906. Eighteen months later a third child, James, was born.

I note that this means I am a dual Australian-New Zealand citizen. I am very proud of my New Zealand heritage, I think of myself as part Kiwi, but I hadn’t realised that I was technically a dual citizen until the recent troubles involving Barnaby Joyce.

Australians have a tendency to look down a little on New Zealand, something that makes Kiwis bristle. We therefore do not realise just how far in front of Australia New Zealand has been in key aspects of life.

In 1906, the New Zealand population was 936,309. The population of Christchurch and its immediate environs was 67,878. Despite these small numbers and the dispersed nature of the population, by 1906 New Zealand had an articulated decentralized education system from school through teachers’ training colleges to university.

Canterbury in particular was a centre for new ideas and had a totally disproportionate influence on global intellectual life.

Much later, the New Zealand example would play out in New England politics as those seeking self-government and northern advancement used New Zealand as a case study to justify their campaigning. For the present, Canterbury provided the base for the emergence of the Pacific Belshaws.

On his arrival in New Zealand James Belshaw Snr worked in various jobs including farm labourer and coal merchant, before becoming a Primitive Methodist home missionary.

Belshaw could not become a fully fledged minister because of his lack of formal education. A home missionary role was an intermediate step that allowed him to support the faithful like a minister, but without the formal qualifications.

It also provided a more secure position to bring up his family, the next step in the emergence of the Pacific Belshaws.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 17 January 2018. 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, here 2018 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Implications for New England of the latest analysis on the impact of sea level change on Aboriginal Australia - a note

Regular commenter JohnB pointed me to a new paper on historic sea level changes in Australia:  Alan N. Williams, Sean Ulm, Tom Sapienzab, Stephen Lewis and Chris S.M. Turneya, Sea-level change and demography during the last glacial termination and early Holocene across the Australian continent, Quaternary Science Reviews Volume 182, 15 February 2018, Pages 144–154, published on line 12 January 2018.

This third note on understanding the impact of sea level change in Aboriginal New England takes this paper as an entry point for a broader discussion focused on the impact of sea level and associated climatic changes on New England Aboriginal life.

Please note that I have not been able to access the full paper at this point for cost reasons. That will have to wait until I can find a library that will give me access. This is an especial problem for their population modelling.

The Williams et al Paper

Map of Australia by Sean Ulm showing sea-level change and archaeological sites for selected periods between 35,000 and 8,000 years ago. PMSL=Present Mean Sea Level. Note the apparently small shifts in Northern NSW relative to some other areas. . 

The on-line abstract of the paper summarises some of the paper in this way:
  • Investigation of scale, pace and human impacts of post-glacial sea-level change.
  • Presents continental-scale consensus sea-level curve for Sahul between 35-8 ka.
  • Demonstrates some 2.12 million km2 (∼21.6%) of land lost, notably during MWP-1a.
  • Coastlines changed on average by 139 km, and at a rate of up to ∼23.7 m per year.
  • Populations low, but likely severely disrupted, and led to new configurations.
The abstract of the paper reads:
"Future changes in sea-level are projected to have significant environmental and social impacts, but we have limited understanding of comparable rates of change in the past. Using comprehensive palaeoenvironmental and archaeological datasets, we report the first quantitative model of the timing, spatial extent and pace of sea-level change in the Sahul region between 35-8 ka, and explore its effects on hunter-gatherer populations. Results show that the continental landmass (excluding New Guinea) increased to 9.80 million km2 during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), before a reduction of 2.12 million km2 (or ∼21.6%) to the early Holocene (8 ka). Almost 90% of this inundation occurs during and immediately following Meltwater Pulse (MWP) 1a between 14.6 and 8 ka. The location of coastlines changed on average by 139 km between the LGM and early Holocene, with some areas >300 km, and at a rate of up to 23.7 m per year (∼0.6 km land lost every 25-year generation). Spatially, inundation was highly variable, with greatest impacts across the northern half of Australia, while large parts of the east, south and west coastal margins were relatively unaffected. Hunter-gatherer populations remained low throughout (<30,000), but following MWP1a, increasing archaeological use of the landscape, comparable to a four-fold increase in populations, and indicative of large-scale migration away from inundated regions (notably the Bass Strait) are evident. Increasing population density resulting from MWP1a (from 1/655 km2 to 1/71 km2) may be implicated in the development of large and complex societies later in the Holocene. Our data support the hypothesis that late Pleistocene coastal populations were low, with use of coastal resources embedded in broad-ranging foraging strategies, and which would have been severely disrupted in some regions and at some time periods by sea-level change outpacing tolerances of mangals and other near-shore ecological communities" .
The authors provided a summary of the  paper in The Conversation, "Australia’s coastal living is at risk from sea level rise, but it’s happened before",  January 16 2018. The map is from this paper.

Some of their key points can be summarised this way:
  • The potential impacts of these past sea-level changes on Aboriginal populations and societies have long been a subject of speculation by archaeologists and historians.
  • Archaeologists have long recognised that Aboriginal people would have occupied the now-drowned continental shelves surrounding Australia, but opinions have been divided about the nature of occupation and the significance of sea-level rise. Most have suggested that the ancient coasts were little-used or underpopulated in the past.
  • Our data show that Aboriginal populations were severely disrupted by sea-level change in many areas. Perhaps surprisingly the initial decrease in sea level prior to the peak of the last ice age resulted in people largely abandoning the coastline, and heading inland, with a number of archaeological sites within the interior becoming established at this time.
  • With the onset of the massive inundation after the end of the last ice age people evacuated the coasts causing markedly increased population densities across Australia (from around 1 person for every 355 square km 20,000 years ago, to 1 person every 147 square km 10,000 years ago).
  • We argue that this squeezing of people into a landmass 22% smaller – into inland areas that were already occupied – required people to adopt new social, settlement and subsistence strategies. This may have been an important element in the development of the complex geographical and religious landscape that European explorers observed in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Following the stabilisation of the sea level after 8,000 years ago, we start to see the onset of intensive technological investment and manipulation of the landscape (such as fish traps and landscape burning)
  • We also see the formation of territories (evident by marking of place through rock art) that continues to propagate up until the present time. All signs of more people trying to survive in less space.
But what is the evidence for New England?

Shape of the Continental Shelf

The effect of sea level change varies depending on the size of sea level shifts, shifts in land height as the land adjusts to things such as increased or reduced ice weight and the configuration of the land itself.

In my first note on the impact of sea level changes, I mentioned that I had only just found a 2010 paper: Alan Jordan, Peter Davies, Tim Ingleton, Edwina Foulsham, Joe Neilson and Tim Pritchard,  Seabed habitat mapping of the continental shelf of NSW, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water NSW, Sydney 2010. This focuses on the current seabed habitat along the NSW, but it contains some of the best local descriptions that I have seen of the shape of the continental shelf itself in Northern NSW.

I am still working my way through this paper, but I would summarise some of the conclusions in this way. In considering them, remember that we are dealing with variations in sea levels over my study period from perhaps 50-60m below current levels to 120-130m below to perhaps 2m above and then a fall back to current levels. In combination with associated climatic changes, this would have had significant habitat changes for local Aboriginal populations as land was revealed and then submerged.

It will be clear from the Sean Ulm map reproduced above, that the effects of sea level changes along the NSW coast were smaller than in other parts of Sahul, but that doesn’t really provide much local information.
To further out thinking here, the overall width of the continental shelf is defined as the distance to the shelf break. From this point, the seabed falls away quickly. The shelf break occurs at varying heights, leading to variations in depth below current sea levels. The continental shelf slopes down from the current shoreline at varying angles. Higher land on the shelf may appear as reefs or islands.

The NSW study shows considerable regional variations in the depth of the shelf break and the certainty with which it can be defined. The shelf break between Cape Howe in the far south of NSW to Forster on the Mid North Coast varied predominantly between depths of 130–170m and gradually decreased in areas further north to depths of approximately 80–110m off the Northern Rivers.

During the LGM, sea levels dropped to 120-130m below current levels. In Southern New England up to Forster, the shelf break with its sharp decline in height would have remained largely below sea level, although it might have been quite close to the shore. Further north, the shelf break would have been marked by a line of cliffs or at least precipitous decline 15-50m above then sea level.

The study did not report on the 130m contour, focusing instead on the 200m contour deep zone. The distance to the outer edge of the 200-metre contour deep zone revealed the smallest zone widths of 13.4 kilometres and 13.9 kilometres were off Hat Head and Sawtell respectively. The broadest areas occurred off the Stockton Bight with a zone width of up to 46.7 kilometres.

The authors also looked at the extent of the intermediate-depth zone, 25–60m. This is significant because 60m below current is around the sea level when the Aborigines spread across Sahul. This ranged from 1.5 kilometres off Botany Bay, 1.6 kilometres off Shellharbour to 17.5 kilometres just north of Yamba.
The majority of wide (greater than 8 kilometres) intermediate-depth areas were located north of Hat Head, reflecting the overall shallower slope of the shelf in that region. The small number of wide intermediate areas south of Port Jackson mostly reflected the presence of shallow embayments and/or offshore reefs.

Some information was also provided on the shallow-depth zone boundary defined as 25m This was universally narrow along the NSW coast, varying between 0.3 kilometres off Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay to 3.5 kilometres off the Shoalhaven Bight south of Nowra. The width of the immediate-depth zones was more variable than the shallow-depth zones: 70 per cent of the widths of shallow-depth zones were between 0.8 and 1.8 kilometres whereas 70 per cent of widths for intermediate-depth zones were between 5 and 15 kilometres.

In considering this information, we need to remember that the coastal land as we know it today did not exist in the past, but has been formed in part by a constant battle between land and sea, the rivers and creeks depositing silt, the sea eroding the shore. Accepting this and very roughly :
·         We have a fall in height of 25m in the first 0.3-3.5 kilometres.
·         Followed by a further fall of up to 35m in the next 3.5-16 kilometres
·         With a further fall of 60-60m in the remaining distance to the LGM sea line.

If we take the period to the LGM, the additional land at then sea levels was most extensive in the Northern Rivers, narrowed south of Nambucca Heads before widening again. The delta-estuarine-lake formations that we know today and which were such rich environment in Aboriginal times did not exist. Lacking the accumulated sand and silt, land levels along much of the existing coastline would have been lower. The path of the rivers and streams would have been different, less meandering. They are likely to have been faster flowing given the slope of the continental shelf. The pre-LGM coastline was established for a considerable period. I do not know to what extent the rivers were able to create estuarine conditions, given the geography that I have described.

The land areas revealed by the LGM drops in sea levels were greatest in the north and south broken by the strip in the middle where the continental shelf is particularly narrow. With steeper slopes and colder temperatures it seems likely if not certain that the land, as suggested by Sandra Bowdler, became relatively inhospitable.[1] I say likely but not certain because of the degree of local variation, the possibility of micro-environments.

With the arrival of the warm Holocene, the seas rushed back, penetrating deep inland in some spots. You can get a feel for this is you remove all the present sand dunes, all the now accumulated silt and sand in the estuaries and flood plains, with a water level 1-2m higher than present sea levels. Now the streams and rivers carrying higher water volumes in the wetter climate began to push back against the seas, progressively creating the coastline we know today.

Archaeological Dates

We do not know when the Aborigines first settled the area that would later be called Northern NSW, the broader New England.

We know from dating at Warren Cave in Tasmania that the Aborigines had reached Tasmania around 35,000 years ago [2]while dates from Willandra Lakes in South West New South Wales suggest occupation as early as 40 to 41,000 years ago, perhaps even later[3]. The dates we have for New England are more recent.

The Cuddie Springs site near Brewarrina suggests occupation as long ago as 35,000 years BP.[4] However, dates here have been subject to considerable dispute and there presently appears to be no agreement on the issue.[5] Excluding Cuddie Springs, we have a date of greater than 20,200 years BP from a hearth at Glennies Creek 35 kilometres north of Branxton in the Hunter, while a site on a former terrace of Wollombi Brook near Singleton suggested a date range of 18,000-30,000 years BP. At Moffats Swamp near Raymond Terrace, a date of 17,000 years BP was obtained. On the Liverpool Plains, Aboriginal occupation has been dated to at least 19,000 years BP[6]. Further north in South-East Queensland, the Wallen Wallen Creek site shows continuous occupation from about 20,000 years ago.[7]

I note that there are some problems with these dates that I have not yet resolved. However, for present purposes it is the broad pattern that I am interested in.

Note, first, that the dates are late Pleistocene dates from the LGM period. However, there are no coastal zone dates from the Hunter to Wallen Wallen Creek. The entire Tablelands and much of the coast is presently an archaeological blank.

Wallen Wallen Creek lies on North Stradbroke Island, then part of the mainland some distance from the coast. The suggestion is that it was a transit camp for people moving to the coast. Something of the same may be true for Moffats Swamp which lies not far from the present coastline but would then have been some distance from the sea.  

The two other Hunter sites are further inland and could have been refuge areas with access to water and game. Richard Wright suggests that the Liverpool Plains was a relatively fertile area even during the harsh climatic conditions of the LGM, although he notes that there were periods when the climate did deteriorate significantly.[8]

Dates then seem to vanish. Then we have a first date of 9,320+/-160 from Stuart’s Point in the Macleay Valley as the coastal zone begins to stabilise.[9]. From around 4,000 years ago a rush of dates begins. Intensification had begun.


Recognising that the continental shelf in New England is far narrower and therefore the scale effects of sea level change are less, my preliminary analysis does seem broadly supportive of the new paper, recognising that I have only read the summary. However, I do have some questions in my mind.:
To begin with, I am reluctant to accept that there were no Aboriginal people on the humid coastal strip between the Hunter and Southern Queensland. I think that we need a lot more micro or local level information on the changing environment including sea levels.

Then we have the language patterns. As best I understand it, the differences between the northern and southern coastal languages could support re-occupation from north and south. But then we have the problem of the length of time required for the languages to differentiate into the pattern that existed at the time of European occupation. I don’t have an answer for this.

[1] Sandra Bowdler, “The empty coast: Conditions for human occupation in southeast Australia during the late Pleistocene”. In O'Connor S, editor, Altered ecologies: fire, climate and human influence on terrestrial landscapes. Vol. Terra Australis; 32. http://epress.anu.edu.au: ANU E Press. 2010. p. 177-186.
[2] John Mulvaney & Johan Kamminga, Prehistory of Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 1999. P186.
[3] Munvaney & Kamminga, op cit, p197. There is debate about the Wilandra Lakes dates, with some arguing for older dates. Josephine Flood, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, J.B. Publishing, Marleston, revised edition, 2004, p1.
[4] Josephine Flood, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, p189.
[5] The Wikipedia article, Cuddie Springs, provides an interesting discussion on this issue. Accessed 15 April 2009.
[6] Dates drawn from Dominic Steele Consulting Archaeology, Preliminary Aboriginal Archaeological Survey & Assessment,  Proposed Upgrade of State Highway SH23, Shortland to Sandgate New South Wales, December 2005, p17
[7] Ian Walters, Antiquity of Marine Fishing in South-East Queensland, QAR, Vol 9, 1992, pp35-39. P35. Accessed on line 4 April 2009.
[8] Richard Wright, The Future of Australia's Prehistoric Past, Arts: The Journal of the Sydney University Arts Association, Vol 12 (1984). pp 22-34
[9] Graham Knuckey, A shell midden at Clybucca, near Kempsey, New South Wales, Journal, Australian Archaeology Volume 48, 1999 - Issue 1, pp1-11

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Pacific Belshaws 1 - passions pass through generations

Walking Day: Platt Bridge, Wigan 1900. The annual walking days were one of the rituals of Methodist life. This is the first in a series telling the story of the Pacific Belshaws

As a break from my recent focus on the built environment, over the next few columns I will take you on a journey through the history of my part of the Belshaw family.

It’s the story of a small working class family that through education, work and a degree of happenstance became an intellectual/academic family that had at least some minor impact on intellectual and academic life in four countries and, to a degree, beyond.

It is also the story of the way similar passions and interests pass through generations in different countries.

In subject terms these interests include, history, economics, anthropology and archaeology.

Recurring issues over more than 100 years of family history include economics, rural and regional development, Indigenous advancement, social justice and a belief that improvement is possible.

We can begin our story 151 years ago with the birth of my grandfather James Belshaw in Wigan, Lancashire, on February 7 1867.

Wigan and its suburbs including Ince and Platt Bridge are “Belshaw Central”.

Wigan with its coal mines, new canals and textile mills had been expanding rapidly as the industrial revolution spread.

James left school early to become a miner, the third generation to do so.

James had at least some education, later supplemented by reading and especially the bible.

By contrast, my great grandparents’ wedding certificate shows bride, groom and the two witnesses all signing with a cross, implying that they were illiterate. This was not unusual.

When my father visited England in 1936, his father’s older sister Ellen apologised that she had not kept in touch, explaining that she could not write.

In 1897, James Belshaw married Mary Pilkington who had been working in the mills. In 1898 their first child, Horace, was born followed by Olive in 1899. Olive died two years later, but then in 1804 a third child, May, was born.

My grandfather seems to have been determined to better himself. He set up as a greengrocer, then worked as an insurance salesman and then again as a coal miner.

He and his wife were devout members of the Primitive Methodist Church.

He was also politically active, running in 1905 as a candidate for the newly formed Labour Party in the Abram Council elections. “I am one of you, a local and working man,” he explained in his campaign pamphlet.

That same year James decided to emigrate to New Zealand. That decision led to the establishment of the Pacific Belshaws.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 10 January 2018. 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, here 2018 

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The story of builder and philanthropist George F Nott

As part of my series on the New England built environment and associated architecture, I devoted four posts to sketching out the life of New England builder, industrialist and philanthropist George Nott.
  Former St Patrick's Orphanage, Armidale, one of the many buildings built by George Nott especially in Armidale and Inverell.  Architect FJ Bishop of Tamworth. Post Federation Gothic style. Completed 1921
George Nott he was born on the Breeza Plains in 1865. He came to Inverell where his father worked as a brick maker and established a brickworks.

By 1901, George had taken over the Inverell brick works from his father and had begun to expand it. By then, he seems to have been living in Armidale where he built a significant business empire including building, saw-milling, joinery and brick making

George Nott died on 16 June 1940. Over his long career, he had built many of the iconic buildings in Armidale and Inverell. His donations of material and money played a critical role in bringing community projects to success including the New England University College.

You can find the full story in:

Monday, January 08, 2018

Beringia and the settlement of North America - DNA results from Alaska

This post is a reference note. It's outside my primary focus, but is recorded for reference purposes in the ever evolving world of prehistoric man.

In a paper in Nature, Terminal Pleistocene Alaskan genome reveals first founding population of Native Americans that was published on-line on 3 January 2018, the authors' report on DNA analysis of Alaskan remains::
Despite broad agreement that the Americas were initially populated via Beringia, the land bridge that connected far northeast Asia with northwestern North America during the Pleistocene epoch, when and how the peopling of the Americas occurred remains unresolved. Analyses of human remains from Late Pleistocene Alaska are important to resolving the timing and dispersal of these populations. The remains of two infants were recovered at Upward Sun River (USR), and have been dated to around 11.5 thousand years ago (ka). Here, by sequencing the USR1 genome to an average coverage of approximately 17 times, we show that USR1 is most closely related to Native Americans, but falls basal to all previously sequenced contemporary and ancient Native Americans. As such, USR1 represents a distinct Ancient Beringian population. Using demographic modelling, we infer that the Ancient Beringian population and ancestors of other Native Americans descended from a single founding population that initially split from East Asians around 36 ± 1.5 ka, with gene flow persisting until around 25 ± 1.1 ka. 
The story is well covered in this Guardian piece by Jennifer Raff (hat tip to John Hawks) and in this more detailed story by Dr. Ben A. Potter, Ancient Beringians.The following diagram from DR Potter's piece suggests the evolution of the human population in North America. Comments follow the diagram.

No doubt the diagram will continue to evolve as we learn more. For the moment, a few comments from an Australian perspective. .

Beringia is the name given to the land bridge that joined Asia and North America during the period of very low sea levels. This land lies north of the main glaciation during the Last Glacial Maximum. We keep coming back to the LGM don't we?!

According to Wikipedia, Beringia, like most of Siberia and all of North and Northeast China, was not glaciated because snowfall was very light.. It was a grassland steppe, including the land bridge, that stretched for hundreds of kilometres into the continents on either side. It became, in effect, a refuge area that allowed some people and animals to survive and to enter what would become North America. More and more, I think that we need to understand the possible pattern of refuge areas in Sahul (Australia) that might have facilitated human survival on this content during the LGM.

In looking at the diagram, I was struck by the short time horizons involved in the evolution of particular groups compared to the history of Aboriginal occupation of this continent.We know, I think, that the Papuans and Aborigines come from the same base, that the genetic differences between South West and North East are perhaps as great as those between Asian and European populations, that there were some specific genetic mutations that emerged in adapting to differing environments. We also know that there were considerable differences in physical appearance between differing Aboriginal groups over space. But I don't think that we understand the pattern here. Certainly I don't.

 I think that it would be interesting to find that out.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

The work of Dr Caitlin Green - the importance of the local effects of sea level changes on the detail of human history

The start of a new history year. May 2018 be a good year for all of us, personally and in research and writing. There is so much more to learn. At this point I haven't attempted any new year's resolutions. I may do so later. For the moment, I want to focus on one blog that I found over the break, Dr Caitlin Green's personal blog and website,. It's a blog I have really enjoyed.

Caitlin is an historian and writer whose professional interests lie in the history, archaeology, place-names and literature of late Roman and early medieval Britain. Don't let her field put you off. Even if you are not interested in her specific field, there is some good and fascinating stuff there that really spans.

Normally I would give you some examples to illustrate, a taste if you like. But this time, I want to follow through a series of linked posts over time that while in a different place are tangential to some of the discussion on this blog.

The Welton le Wold handaxes: 400,000 years ago

In The Welton le Wold handaxes & the earliest human activity in the Louth region (4 August 2014),  I had to look Louth up.  It's in Lincolnshire, an area that Caitlin has subjected to detailed study. The post discusses the latest dating evidence: "We therefore have, in the Welton handaxes, solid evidence that early humans were present in the Louth region around 400,000 years ago."
The Welton handaxes. Note the fine worked detail surviving after c400,000 years. 
The material in question comes from Welton le Wold quarry, which lies in the Lincolnshire Wolds around three miles to the west of Louth. They consist of three flint handaxes, a worked flake, and a number of fossil animal bones and teeth. Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating of the associated gravel suggests that the handaxes and fossil bones probably originated during a temperate period, the Hoxnian Interglacial, which lasted from around 424,000–374,000 years ago.

In her post, Caitlin discusses the life of the makers and their possible relationship to other English discoveries. In doing so, she outlines some of the huge climate and landscape changes that took place over the 400,000 years since and the way they might have affected both movement and evidence.

In Australia, we have become thinking in long terms as the date of human occupation of the continent has been progressively pushed back to now around 65,000 years. The time horizons in Europe and Africa are much longer because of the variety of Hominin species involved. One of the interesting questions is the possibility that we will find evidence of earlier hominin species in Australia. This seems more likely than it did a few years ago since the Hominin occupation of what is now Asia was far more widespread and complex than was once realised.

From Welton le Wold to the end of the last glacial period, c15,000 years ago 

This graph from Dr Caitlin Green provides a visual indication of temperature fluctuations over the last 800,000 years. Those fluctuations had huge impacts on human life.  
Caitlin continues the story in Of chalk and ice: the white cliffs of Louth in the Palaeolithic era  (24 September 2014). This traces the story from the handaxes probably used by pre- or ancestral Neanderthal hunters in the Hoxnian Interglacial around 400,000 years ago to the end of the last glacial period nearly 15,000 years ago.

The archaeological record is patchy, It appears that at 280,000 years ago there were at least occasional human visits, that around 57,000 years ago the as Neanderthal settlement and then around 35,000 years ago modern humans arrived.  The patterns reflect varying temperature patterns. The arrival of the Last Glacial Maximum effectively terminated much human settlement.

From 15,000 years ago

From 15,000 years ago, Caitlin's material is spread over multiple posts. I will list some of those posts in a moment, but I wanted to make some general comments first.

There is a constant battle between land and sea. The land extends itself through a process called progradation; rivers carry silt that can progressively build land through the formation of deltas. In New England, perhaps the most classic example is the lower Macleay valley where at the height of the Holocene the sea stretched inland to the site of modern Kempsey, only to be driven back to the current coastline through progradation.

For its part, the sea constantly erodes the land. Sometimes when there are big storms in combination with high tides, the sea can breach barriers reclaiming the land.

Sea level changes affect the whole process. Sea levels relative to land can change because sea levels rise. An extreme case is the rise in sea levels from 120 metres below current levels at the height of the Last Glacial Maximum to perhaps three metres above current levels at the peak of the warm Holocene period.

Sea levels relative to land can also change because the land itself rises or falls. Again, an extreme example is the shifts associated with the ending of the last ice age where the removal of the ice cap caused post glacial rebound. Land that had been forced down by the icecaps rose, causing land elsewhere to fall. Places that were ports, for example, find themselves inland. Places that were above water find themselves submerged. These are long term processes that continue today,

Post glacial changes are not the only factor at play, for continental shifts also affect land levels. Research suggests that as the Australian continent drifted north from Antarctica during the past 50 million years, it subsided by up to 300 metres and tilted to the north. Again, this is a long term process that continues today  It seems that the Australian continent is both moving north (1.5 metres in the last 22 years) and wriggling around as it moves.

One of the lessons all this, a lesson that Caitlin's posts with their focus on part of Lincolnshire illustrate, is that the local effects of these changes vary across the entire spectrum. You cannot simply apply generalised models without risk of error. You  actually have to analyse local conditions. This is true in general, but increases in importance as the time period under study increases.

Some of Caitlin's posts are: