THE DEEP PAST OF PRE-COLONIAL AUSTRALIA

STEPHANIE MAWSON
2020 The Historical Journal  
Human occupation of Australia dates back to at least 65,000 years. Aboriginal ontologies incorporate deep memories of this past, at times accompanied by a conviction that Aboriginal people have always been there. This poses a problem for historians and archaeologists: how to construct meaningful histories that extend across such a long duration of space and time. While earlier generations of scholars interpreted pre-colonial Aboriginal history as static and unchanging, marked by isolation and
more » ... by isolation and cultural conservatism, recent historical scholarship presents Australia's deep past as dynamic and often at the cutting-edge of human technological innovation. This historiographical shift places Aboriginal people at the centre of pre-colonial history by incorporating Aboriginal oral histories and material culture, as well as ethnographic and anthropological accounts. This review considers some of the debates within this expansive and expanding field, focusing in particular on questions relating to Aboriginal agriculture and land management and connections between Aboriginal communities and their Southeast Asian neighbours. At the same time, the study of Australia's deep past has become a venue for confronting colonial legacies, while also providing a new disciplinary approach to the question of reconciliation and the future of Aboriginal sovereignty in Australia.
doi:10.1017/s0018246x20000369 fatcat:hp7c77s2qzgc7ka3qjkxuydgmm