| 8 February 2015
Australian stories tell of ancient climate change
An early European settler in Australia described stories told by the Aboriginal people of a time when three islands off the southwest coast near Perth "formed part of the mainland, and that the intervening ground was thickly covered with trees."
In one story those trees caught fire and burned "with such intensity that the ground split asunder with a great noise, and the sea rushed in between, cutting off these islands from the mainland."
Researchers recently matched this and other Aboriginal stories to real events. The sea did rush in at the end of the last glacial period, about 7,500 to 8,900 years ago.
Another Aboriginal community tells of a time when the northeast shoreline reached to the Great Barrier Reef, recalling a river that flowed into the sea at what is now Fitzroy Island, near the city of Cairns. John Upton, writing for Climate Central, says: "The great gulf between today's shoreline and the reef suggests that the stories tell of a time when seas were more than 200 feet (60 metres) lower than they are today, placing the story's roots at as many as 12,600 years ago."
Nicholas Reid, a linguist specialising in Aboriginal Australian languages, told Upton. "It's almost unimaginable that people would transmit stories about things like islands that are currently underwater accurately across 400 generations." Reid worked with Patrick Nunn, a geography professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast, to match the stories with the land and how it has changed. A preliminary draft of their work makes the case for 18 Aboriginal stories describing coastal flooding at the end of the last ice age, and argues that researchers should look to old stories when building a picture of our world.
Edited from Smithsonian.com (26 January 2015)
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