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Recalling Ancient Lands: Nations That Remember the Ice Age

When you think of the Ice Age, I imagine you think of Scrat chasing nuts and the Ice Age characters trying to find the parents of a baby Neanderthal somewhere in Alaska. However, the Ice Age is more than just a distant place fit for animated cartoons. The Ice Age was a time period, not a place: it affected the entire world. This period's imprint on Aboriginal cultures makes us reevaluate the endurance of indigenous stories and the impact of stories on unified, cohesive cultures.

The majority of scholarship, in analyzing stories from Africa to Alaska, have found that most oral histories seem to last only 500 to 800 years before becoming hopelessly embellished. Aboriginal storytelling challenges this view. Aboriginal storytelling encompasses tales from across the continent, describing the time in which the oceans overtook the land—land, however, that had last been above sea level five to twelve thousand years ago. That is a lot longer than 500 to 800 years!

Geography professor Patrick Nunn of the University of the Sunshine Coast and linguist Nicholas Reid of the University of New England worked together to collect and analyze 21 of these oral histories in depth. 67% were mythological (Nunn & Reid). For example, one mythological story recounts how the Meralang (small islands off the southern coast) was created as a man, Ngurunduri, caused a flood that killed his fleeing wives. Other storytelling is narrative. For example, the Dharawal story of Sydney Harbour details that once Kai'eemah (Georges River) joined with the Goolay'yari (Cooks River) to form one river flowing through a swamp, but then a tsunami flooded and created a harbour. Put together, the stories create a historical description of the sea level rising in each region.

So, why does this matter to you? Well, if you are Dharawal or Jaralde, these events are, in some ways, equivalent to the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia or the Hurricane of 1900 in Galveston, Texas, which my own great-great-grandfather survived by hanging onto a tree. Even more so, Nunn and Reid point out that the territoriality of Aboriginal cultures meant that these events define even the inheritance of the lands through each generation.

These stories are thus not only true, but also are indicative of how far more advanced Aboriginals are to other cultures in terms of storytelling. So, despite an apparent consensus that stories don't last, the Dharawal, Jaralde, and hundreds of others have been recording events since the beginning of time. Aboriginal cultures, already so embedded in their lands by the end of the Ice Age, have descendants in the 21st century who still find it crucial to tell their storytelling to modern Australians.


Work Cited

  1. Nunn, Patrick, and Nicholas Reid. “Aboriginal Memories of Inundation of the Australian Coast Dating from More than 7000 Years Ago.” Australian Geographer, vol. 47, no. 1, 2016.

Last Fact Checked on May 29th, 2021.

1 Comment

It's amazing how important oral history is to these people. In a day when our FB or Snapchat is unreliable at the time we post it, we can find out about a people group through which meaningful history has endured.

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