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29 September 2007
Ice age Australians sheltered in caves

Ice age Aboriginal Australians protected themselves from bitterly cold winds by flocking to caves in one of the most inhospitable parts of the continent, says an archaeologist. Ian Gilligan, a postgraduate researcher from the Australian National University, lays out his argument in the current issue of the journal Antiquity. "The only real evidence we have for Tasmanian Aboriginal people during the ice age is in that very coldest, windiest southwest corner of the island and that's a paradox," he says.
     Researchers have found ice age stone tools age in rock shelters and caves in the southwest, Gilligan says, but not in other parts of the island. Until now, he says researchers have not explained why people once flocked to the exposed southwest because scientists have underplayed the importance of protection from the cold in determining where people live. He argues the caves and steep valleys of the southwest provided important shelter from chilling winds. "Whilst the temperature may be somewhat colder in that area, what the southwest offered to humans during the glacial maximum was protection from wind," he says.
     Gilligan says it's early days for his theory that the cold drove humans to the southwest during the ice age, but the idea is also supported by evidence on hunting patterns. He says Dr Richard Cosgrove of La Trobe University has found ice age remains of hunted wallaby in the area were more abundant in winter. In other words, the colder the season, the more likely Aboriginal people were to live in the southwest.
     While there is no actual evidence of ice age Aboriginal people living on the coast in the milder months during the ice age, they would have had abundant food in the form of fur seals and mutton birds, says Gilligan. He says any evidence for ice age habitation of the coast is likely to have been destroyed by rising sea levels.

Source: ABC Science Online (24 September 2007)

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