The map shows the distribution of Pama-Nyungan languages across Australia
Interesting article in Nature Ecology & Evolution by Remco R. Bouckaert, Claire Bowern & Quentin D. Atkinson, The origin and expansion of Pama–Nyungan languages across Australia that in some ways throws a cat among the pigeons The abstract reads:
It remains a mystery how Pama–Nyungan, the world’s largest hunter-gatherer language family, came to dominate the Australian continent. Some argue that social or technological advantages allowed rapid language replacement from the Gulf Plains region during the mid-Holocene. Others have proposed expansions from refugia linked to climatic changes after the last ice age or, more controversially, during the initial colonization of Australia. Here, we combine basic vocabulary data from 306 Pama–Nyungan languages with Bayesian phylogeographic methods to explicitly model the expansion of the family across Australia and test between these origin scenarios. We find strong and robust support for a Pama–Nyungan origin in the Gulf Plains region during the mid-Holocene, implying rapid replacement of non-Pama–Nyungan languages. Concomitant changes in the archaeological record, together with a lack of strong genetic evidence for Holocene population expansion, suggests that Pama–Nyungan languages were carried as part of an expanding package of cultural innovations that probably facilitated the absorption and assimilation of existing hunter-gatherer groups.
Remco R. Bouckaert, Claire Bowern & Quentin D. Atkinson, The origin and expansion of Pama–Nyungan languages across Australia, Nature Ecology & Evolution (2018) doi:10.1038/s41559-018-0489-3 Received:07 August 2017, Accepted:30 January 2018, Published online:12 March 2018An article in the Conversation by Claire Bowern, The origins of Pama-Nyungan, Australia’s largest family of Aboriginal languages (13 March, 2018) provides further information. There is also a website, Pama-Nyungan Origins, that provides supplementary information.
Again I won't be able to check the detail of the research until I can access the article into a library.
As before, my interest is in the implications for my broader New England, the Tablelands and the surrounding river valleys. The Aboriginal languages spoken here belong to the Pama-Nyungan family. This research suggests that this family arose just under 6,000 years ago around what is now the Queensland town of Burketown. It suggest this language family spread across Australia as people moved in response to changing climate.
Why is this an issue?
I said earlier that it threw the cat among the pigeons because the results conflict with some other research and with the idea of continuity in Aboriginal Australia. It also plays into a previous debate about the causes of the changes that took place in Aboriginal Australia c4000 years ago and the causes of those changes. Was it a natural process of evolution or due to some external influence?
From a New England viewpoint, I have been trying to understand the pattern of climate and sea level changes and their impact on Aboriginal occupation from the Pleistocene through into the Holocene.My views can be briefly summarised this way:
- We have a range of dates from the Hunter Valley, Liverpool Plains and at Wallen Wallen in SE Queensland suggesting occupation during the late Pleistocene (17,000 to 22,000 years ago)
- The LGM (Late Glacial Maximum) forced populations to shift to survive. Parts of the North Coast were not very hospitable, so I postulated a retreat north and south.
- As the new coastal environment began to form, people returned. Inland, the population spread from refuge areas along the slopes and plains. The Tablelands constituted an initial barrier.As the climate eased further and the environment changed the Tablelands were resettled primarily from the coast, but also onto the slopes from the West. I think that this pattern is reflected in later language differences.
- In terms of the patchy dates we have, we have earliest settlement in the Macleay around 9,000 years ago, a date of over 6,000 years ago for Seelands in the Clarence, around 5,500 years ago for Graman on the western slopes. My feeling was that by around 6,000 years ago, reoccupation of territory after the LGM was well underway.
- from around 4000 years ago the number of dates begins to accelerate with accelerated population increase. .
Professor Bowern is a respected linguist. Based on evidence she and her colleagues have posed a new hypothesis. We will have to wait and see what it means for New England Aboriginal Studies.