INTRODUCTION TO AUSTRALIA'S ABORIGINAL CULTURE - PART 1


Australia's Aboriginal culture probably represents the oldest surviving culture in the world, with the use of stone tool technology and painting with red ochre pigment dating to at least 50,000 years ago. Australians never developed an "iron age", "bronze age", or pottery, and the terms "palaeolithic" (old stone age) and "neolithic" (new stone age) are not used in Australia, because stone technology did not progress in the same way as the rest of the world.

Aboriginal men sharpening stone axes on flat rock. PH 416/43, ABC TV Collection, Northern Territory Library.Humankind's most ancient stone tool technology, the percussion method of chipping away at the edge of a rock to make a sharp edge for cutting, dates back 2.5 million years, and was still practiced by Aborigines until the 1960s and later. Many stone choppers and flake scrapers commonly made until the last few decades are similar to these earliest tools. These flaked tools are used to shape wooden weapons and implements. The manufacture and use of ground edge axes, still occasionally made today, date back over 20,000 years on the northern mainland, and back to 40,000 years in Papua New Guinea, once attached to present day Australia. However, on present evidence, it appears that the manufacture of ground edge axes spread slowly south, dating back only 4,500 years in southern Australia, and not being used in Tasmania, which was cut off from the mainland by rising seas about 11,000 years ago.


A new technology, creating stone blades, was developed about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago and led to the addition of stone spear points, small stone spear barbs, and blade shaped stone knives and scrapers.

Wandjina(s) are the Ancestral Beings of the Kimberley region, Western Australia. Photo: David M. Welch.It was once thought that Modern Man (Homo sapiens sapiens) began with the arrival of Cro-Magnon man in Europe about 40,000 years ago. However, current thinking, based on archaeological finds and genetic studies of mutations of mitochondrial DNA in populations of different people of the world, is that Modern Man evolved in Africa about 190,000 years ago, moved into the Middle East by 120,000 years ago, then into Asia, and on to Australia at least 50,000 years ago. This was at a time when Neanderthal Man was the dominant hominid in parts of Europe. Modern Man later moved into Europe about 40,000 years ago and into the American continent about 14,000 years ago. While other world cultures developed and changed, the Australians remained relatively isolated on their island continent. Still more isolated were the Tasmanian Australians, left alone from the other Australians 11,000 years ago when the seas rose and created the island of Tasmania in Australia's south. The Aborigines who once colonised Asia and Indonesia were displaced by later waves of people who have developed into modern-day Chinese, Indonesian, and the many other cultures of those regions.

 

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