History Books : Part Two : Australian Prehistory

In my last post, I discussed some of my favourite general books on archaeology and the prehistory of mankind. Today, I am focusing on Australian Prehistory, beginning with three books by the celebrated paleobotanist, Mary E White. The Greening of Gondwana and After the Greening are the first two books of her trilogy on the evolution of Australia, the continent and its biota, over 400 million years, the third volume being Listen.. Our Land is Crying. They are all beautiful hardback publications with luscious glossy photographs by Jim Frazier! I am only discussing the first two, as those are the books we own.

The Greening of Gondwana by Mary E White  Third Edition 1998

This book tells the story of Australia’s floral heritage from the earliest times, when all life was aquatic; the emergence of the first land plants, 400 million years ago; and the evolution of Australia’s modern flora and the Gondwanan broad-leaf conifer forests, when Australia finally separated from Antarctica 45 million years ago and moved northward.

There are over 400 wonderful photographs of fossils and living plants, as well as palaeographic maps, artist’s drawings and diagram and tables (Geological eras; Linnaean plant classification; Evolution of the plant kingdom; Australia’s fossil pollen record; and Fossil age and locality).

Part One starts with a description of the rocks of the earth’s crust; the dawn of life; the first unicellular life forms: the Western Australian stromatolites (fossil reefs of cyanobacteria, 3 500 million years old) and unicellular algae; and the formation of plant fossils (macro-fossils and microscopic spores and pollen).

The book then goes on to discuss the theories of continental drift and plate tectonics; Australia’s Gondwanan heritage; and the evolution of an Australian flora from the ancestral Gondwanan flora, which developed in isolation for 30 million years without any significant input from migrants, despite Australia’s proximity to South-East Asia.

While Eucalypts and Acacias predominate, 80 per cent of all the plant species and 30 per cent of Australia’s genera are endemic, accounting for the distinctive Australian character of the flora: its leathery, hard, spiny or reduced leaves, an adaptation to the low nutrient status of the Australian soils and the dry arid conditions called scleromorphy, these plants being called sclerophylls.

Australian plants also have many adaptations to fire: thick insulating protective bark or the shedding of outer layers of bark, so there is no build up of inflammable matter; new buds produced along the length of the stem after fire has destroyed the crown of the tree and underground lignotubers; and hard woody fruits and seeds, which can survive intense heat and often need the stimulus of fire to burst open and start to grow.

Part Two examines Australia’s fossil record in detail:

Life in the early seas (Cambrian, Ordovician and Early to Mid Silurian times);

First land plants of the Late Silurian and Early Devonian periods;

Giant club mosses of the Late Devonian and early Carboniferous periods;

Primitive seed ferns of the mid to late Carboniferous and early Permian years;

Glossopteris flora of the Permian period, when cool temperate swamps formed the early coal deposits and early gingkos, cycad ancestors, conifers and tree ferns were abundant;

Dicroidium flora of the Triassic period;

Age of the Conifers and the cycads of the Jurassic period;

Dawn of the Angiosperms (or Flowering Plants) in the Cretaceous Era;   and

The sequence of events in the Gondwanan breakup and its effect on the flora.

Australia became an ark with a living cargo of Gondwanan plants (predominated by flowering plants) and animals (marsupials, monotremes, large monitors, penguins and emus, parrots and frogmouths, pollinating honeyeaters, Southern Frogs and Side-Necked Turtles) during the Tertiary period, moving northward and having no outside contact for 30 million years.

Specific families are discussed in the book:

Antarctic Beeches Fagaceae (genus Nothofagus);

Winteraceae, one of the most primitive angiosperm families alive today, which includes native pepper Tasmannia;

Proteaceae (Banksia, Proteas and Leucospermum, Persoonia, Telopea, and Macadamia);

Casuarinaceae (She-oaks, Desert Oaks and River-Oaks);

Myrtaceae (Eucalyptus, Leptospermums, Baeckea, Syzgium and Angophoras);

Salt bushes Chenopodiaceae;

Mistletoes Loranthaceae; and

Wattles of Mimosaceae (genus Acacia).

The final chapters discuss Australia’s modern flora from the Quarternary period on, including vegetation types and a map (alpine, rainforest, wet sclerophyll, dry sclerophyll, woodlands, mallee woodlands and scrub, mulga scrub, desert and semi-desert, salt-bush scrub, grasslands and mangroves), as well as a brief mention of the intrusion of northern plants and animals, which came with man, especially after European colonization.BlogPreHxBooksReszd20%Image (591)

After the Greening: The Browning of Australia  by Mary E White 1994

This book continues the story of Australia’s prehistory and the geological processes behind the rifting (160 to 45 million years ago), drifting (15 to 2.4 million years ago) and drying (2.4 million years ago to today) of the continent to become the driest vegetated continent on Earth.

Two thirds of the land is classed as arid and half is desert, yet it supports an amazing variety of desert-adapted fauna and flora. The last 2.4 million years are particularly significant, as they represent the Age of Man and a time when icecaps had a profound effect on the physical landscapes, climate and biota of Australia.

Aboriginal Australians arrived around 60 000 year ago, but the most dramatic changes have occurred over the past 200 years since European settlement, completely unbalancing our delicate ecological balance through grazing; clearing; and the introduction of feral rabbits, goats, horses, donkeys, pigs, buffalo, camels, cats and foxes, not to mention garden escapees and weeds.

The formation of the Great Dividing Range, Australia’s river system, the Murray Basin, the Great Artesian Basin, Nullabor Desert, Ayers Rock and the Olgas is covered, along with the adaptation of Australian flora to the changing climate; ancient weathered soils; droughts and flooding rain; fire; and salt.

The last part of the book discusses Australia’s vegetation regions in detail, as well as future challenges. Again, there is so much information, supported by beautiful colour photographs, maps, tables and diagrams.BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%Image (590)

The final book in the trilogy: Listen.. Our Land is Crying examines Australia’s environmental problems: land and water degradation, increased salinisation and desertification, decreasing biodiversity and habitat destruction, water pollution, the greenhouse effect and feral weeds and animals, suggesting possible solutions and highlighting the amazing unique wonders of our continent. While we don’t own this final book, we do have another of her glossy geological books:

Time in Our Hands : Semi-Precious Gemstones: Keys to the Geological Past by Mary E White 1991, which covers many of her previous topics, but mainly concentrates on the semi-precious gemstones of Lune River, Tasmania: the agates, onyx, carnelian and jasper, all forms of quartz gemstones made from silica dioxide, as well as petrified conifers and tree-ferns.BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%Image (592)

Now for some excellent books on aboriginal prehistory!  One of the earliest  books on Aboriginal origins and culture was the first edition of John Mulvaney’s The Prehistory of Australia in 1969, with a second edition in 1975. The following book is the third edition with substantial changes in content, while still retaining the orientation and much of the original structure of the earlier books, when Mulvaney was the sole author. John Mulvaney is one of Australia’s foremost prehistorians and John Kamminga, an expert on Aboriginal stone technology.

Prehistory of Australia by John Mulvaney and Johan Kamminga 1999

A very comprehensive guide to the Australian aborigines and their traditional way of life.

Chapters cover the following topics:

Diversity of surviving traces: Surface artefacts; shell middens; caves and rock shelters; earth mounds; ceremonial mounds and rock arrangements; stone and ochre quarries; rock art sites; stone hunting-hides and bird and fish traps; scarred trees; hatchet-head grinding localities; and human burials;

Dating the past;

Changing Australian landscapes: Topography, climate, vegetation, cleaning the land, fire-stick farming, water resources and carrying capacity of the land;

People, language and society: Population estimates, language groups, social organization, the Dreaming; and culture areas;

Subsistence and reciprocity: Mobility and seasonality; Animal and plant food: bulbs and tubers, starch extraction, seeds and the farming debate; Material culture : travelling light, hunting weapons, skin cloaks, bone and stone implements, and stone hatchets; Reciprocity and cultural diffusion; and Aboriginal trade in pituri and greenstone;

Seafarers from Sundaland (South East Asia and Indonesia) to Sahul (the super-continent of Australia and Papua New Guinea) during the fluctuating sea levels of Pleistocene;

Extinction of the Mega-Fauna;

Initial colonization, migration theories and Pleistocene settlement: Kow Swamp, Lake Mungo and Tasmania;

Conquest of the deserts: Willandra Lakes; Lake Mungo; Menindee Lakes; Lake Eyre; Nullabor caves; the Pilbara region; and Central Australia;

Pleistocene artefacts : Wood, bone, and stone tools;

Holocene stone tool innovations;

Coastal aborigines: Kakadu; Aurukun and Weipa; South-East Queensland; Sydney; South Coast of NSW; and South-Western Australia;

Regional challenges and responses: The Snowy Mountains; Murray River societies; the arid zones; trade and exchange networks; and technological developments;

Island settlement of the offshore islands and Tasmania;  and a major section on

Rock Art:

  • Panaramitee style of engraving from western NSW to Eastern South Australia and northwards to Alice Springs;
  • Simple figurative motifs of South-eastern Australia: Simple outlines or stick figures with solid or linear infills and simple geometric designs and stencilling                     eg the Southern Highlands and the Grampians;
  • Engravings and pigment art of the Sydney region;
  • Art of Tropical Australia:

1. South-East Cape York: Laura: Quinkan country and Jowalbinna: engravings and painted figurative and non-figurative art; and Koolburra Plateau;

2. Kakadu National Park: Succession of styles and X-ray painting;

3. The Pilbara: Burrup Peninsula engravings;

4. Victoria River District;

5. Kimberley region: Bradshaw figures and Wandjina paintings;

6. Asian and European Newcomers: the Trepang industry; Macassan sites; Chinese and Arab traders; and the Portuguese and Dutch explorers;

This book is an indispensable guide to aboriginal prehistory, especially if travelling around Australia, which we did in 2008!BlogPreHxBooksReszd30%Image (614)

We found the next set of books by Josephine Flood, another prominent archaeologist, very useful in our travels as well:

The Original Australians: Story of the Aboriginal People  by Josephine Flood 2006

This book tells the story of Australian Aboriginal history and culture from their distant beginnings to the present day. She writes for the general public and uses history and culture to answer some of the major questions about the genetic origins of the First Australians; their lifestyle, culture, religion and beliefs; their impact on the megafauna and the Australian environment; and modern problems, including the stolen generation; land rights; the challenges of contemporary aboriginal communities (lower mortality, poverty, poor health, education, alcoholism and drugs etc) and future directions.

Chapters cover:

European discovery of Australia and encounters between the aborigines and Dutch explorers, Macassan traders and Captain Cook;

European colonization and its impact on the original inhabitants, including disease, kidnapping, the treatment of women, confrontation and conflict and severe depopulation between 1820 and 1920;

Indigenous life at first contact: Spirituality; totemism and animism; the Dreaming; Songlines; oral traditions; language (of which there were 250 different language groups); medicine men and women healers; shamans and sorcerers; childhood; initiation ceremonies; marriage and sex; other ceremonies, burials and fertility cults; the wisdom of the elders; law and order; and economy and exchange networks;

Aboriginal origins over the past 50 000 years: Physical characteristics; patterns of settlement; climate change; environmental impacts: the extinction of megafauna and use of the firestick; new technologies and diets; rock art; and language; and

Assimilation and modern day problems and challenges.

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Archaeology of the Dreamtime: The Story of Prehistoric Australia and Its People by Josephine Flood 1995

This book covers many of the above topics.

Part One examines stone and bone tools; the first boat people; routes to Australia; migration; life and death at Lake Mungo; the Australoids of Keilor, Kow Swamp and Willandra Lakes; genetic evidence; the peopling of Australia; early sites throughout Australia; Pleistocene rock art: petroglyphs (engravings) and rock paintings, with a discussion of all the major art sites in Australia; and the extinction of megafauna.

Part Two looks at climate changes and rising sea levels; the arrival of the dingo; food resources: Bogong moths; yams; eels and fish traps; processing toxic cycads; and aboriginal trade, religion and art over the past 1000 years.

At the back is a reference list of all the different Pleistocene artefacts, their location and dates.

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The Riches of Ancient Australia: An Indispensable Guide for Exploring Prehistoric Australia by Josephine Flood 1990

This book certainly lived up to the claim of its subtitle, especially on our 2008 travels around Australia, although we discovered that many of the sites described were no longer accessible to the public, due to cultural sensitivities, and many had a policy of ‘No Photography’. After a brief introduction to Australian prehistory over the last 60 000 years and a discussion of Australian rock art, each state is explored in detail.

We used this book at the following places:

Queensland :

1.Lark Quarry dinosaur footprints

2.Cape York:

Quinkan country at Laura:

The Gugu Yalangi Galleries;BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_4742BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_4828BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_4814 Split Rock;BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_5029 Giant Horse site and Mushroom Rock;BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_5068BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_5069BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_4993 and

Jowalbinna.BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_4567BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_45613. Riversleigh megafauna

Northern Territory

1.Kakadu National Park:

Anbangbang Gallery;

Nourlangie Rock;

Nanguluwur (Xray style); and

Ubirr;BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_5409BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_50872.Victoria River District

Western Australia

1.Chamberlain Gorge, El Questro

2.King George River and Mitchell Falls, Kimberley Plateau:

Gwion Gwion figures 20 000 years old;BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_9230 and the more recent Wandjina figures;BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_91183.Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek

4.Burrup Peninsula engravings: Over 10 000 engravings of humans, animals and geometric figures up to 20 000 years old;BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_1417

5.Stromatolites of Hamelin Pool, Shark Bay;BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_2249BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_2240

South Australia:

Naracoorte Cave megafauna: This is a model of a Diprotodon, the largest marsupial ever!BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_8120 Victoria:

1.The Grampians;

2.Condah fish traps

We have also used this book at other times:

Carnarvon Gorge and Kenniff Cave, Mt Moffat, in Queensland; and

Mt Yarrowyck, Armidale;

The Warrumbungles;  and

Bawley Pt, NSW, with its giant shell middens;

and will definitely be consulting it before our trip to Lake Mungo, Willandra Lakes and Menindee Lakes at some stage in the future!

After our big trip around Australia, my appetite for further knowledge whetted by the large amount of rock art seen, we bought the following books:

 Lost World of the Kimberley: Extraordinary Glimpses of Australia’s Ice Age Ancestors by Ian Wilson 2006

We particularly loved the tiny exquisite and ancient Gwion Gwion Figures, also known as Bradshaw Figures, of the Mitchell Plateau in the Kimberley area! It was so exciting searching and finding these delightful artworks under rocky overhangs at the King George River area en route to Mitchell Falls. Because we had limited time, we splurged on a helicopter ride out over the stone circles on the plateau (photo below) and north to the sea, where we saw a mother and baby dugong, then followed the King Edward River back past huge salt water crocodiles lazing in the sun and the Lower Falls to the Upper Mitchell Falls, where we disembarked to explore the falls.BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_9373 Because we had not walked in, we easily lost the track on the way out, circumnavigationg the area and finding ourselves back at the falls, so if we ever returned to explore the Lower Falls (which we would love to do!), I would definitely use a helicopter both ways!BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_9411 Apparently, there is a huge body of Gwion Gwion artwork at the Lower Falls, where the salt water meets the fresh water! Given that it is probably very unlikely that we will get back there, it is great to have this book! Ian documents the history of the discovery of this amazing artwork and describes the different artistic styles of Kimberley Rock Art:

Archaic Epoch: Cupules; Grooves; and Stencils;

Erudite Epoch:

Bradshaw Figures: Sash Figures; and Tassel Figures;

Clothes Peg Figures: Stick figures; and

Aboriginal Epoch: Clawed Hands; and Wandjina Period.BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_9470BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_9237BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_9203He examines the huge range of art sites and paintings, musing on the lifestyles, artefacts and clothing depicted, as well as their origins, not to mention the more enigmatic paintings of reindeer and high-prowed boats, which look very similar to those of the Ancient Egyptians!BlogPreHxBooksReszd30%Image (613)

Rock Art of the Kimberley by Mike Donaldson and Kevin Kenneally 2007

A record of the proceedings of the Kimberley Society Rock Art Seminar back on 10th September 2005, this book contains chapters by different contributors on a wide variety of topics.

The editor, Mike Donaldson, writes an overview of the Kimberley area: its geology, past climate changes and sea level rises; early European discoverers; the different art forms (cupules; engravings; stencils; beeswax figures; stone arrangements and paintings); the materials used (ochres, charcoal and clays); the subject matter (Gwion Gwion and Wandjina figures; animals; and fighting scenes); and finally, the topic of repainting rock art sites, particularly pertinent to the Wandjina art work.

The latter is further discussed by Donny Woolagoodja, a Worrorra elder and artist, while Denis Callaghan discusses the natural deterioration of rock art sites and Ian Crawford describes the 1960s field work on Wandjina art.

Jim Ross examines evolution and genetics, the migration of the original aboriginal ancestors, climate change, current dispersal theories and the peopling of Australia.

Sue O’Connor describes the different rock art sites and occupation sites in the Kimberley, while David Welch focuses specifically on the Bradshaw Figures.

And finally, Philip Playford explores the aboriginal rock art in the limestone ranges of the West Kimberley: Geike Gorge, Wandjina Gorge; and Tunnel Creek, another area we visited in 2008. Again, beautiful photos and an excellent record of the rock art of the Kimberley region.BlogPreHxBooksReszd30%Image (609)Mike Donaldson has since published a three-volume series on the prolific rock art of the Kimberley :

Kimberley Rock Art -Volume One: Mitchell Plateau Area,  released in April 2012;
Kimberley Rock Art -Volume Two: North Kimberley,  released in October 2012;
Kimberley Rock Art -Volume Three: Rivers and Ranges , released in April 2013.

See: http://www.wildrocks.com.au/ for details.

Mike Donaldson has also produced a lovely book on the rock engravings of the Burrup Peninsula:

Burrup Rock Art : Ancient Aboriginal Rock Art of  Burrup Peninsula and Dampier Archipelago by Mike Donaldson 2010

See: http://www.wildrocks.com.au/publications/burrup-rock-art-book/.

I would love to see this book one day, as we were so impressed with these ancient petroglyphs, of which there are over 10 000, up to 25 000 years old, at Deep Gorge, near Karratha, Western Australia, and so little is known about them.BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_1430 When we first started looking, all we could see were huge mullock heaps of red rock, but once you have spotted the first engraving, they suddenly become obvious, covering most of the rocks and depicting animals, birds, marine animals, geometric symbols and strange looking figures.BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_1406 Here are some more useful websites:

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/burrup-peninsula-rock-art-shows-extinct-megafauna/6561788

https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/publications/archaeology-and-rock-art-in-the-dampier-archipelago/    and

http://rockart.net.au/Burrup.htm.

Rock Paintings of Aboriginal Australia by Elaine Godden and Jutta Malnic 2008

Another terrific publication on aboriginal art work throughout Australia and the stories behind the paintings. It discusses the materials and techniques used and their deterioration and conservation. It then focuses on a few specific areas: The Kimberleys, Cape York, Arnhem Land and the Central Australian Deserts, with superb photographs of the art work throughout.

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 Journey in Time: The 50 000 Year Story of the Australian Aboriginal Rock Art of Arnhem Land by George Chaloupka 1999

This book explores the 50 000 years of Australian Aboriginal rock art of Arnhem Land: its depth and complexity, aesthetic achievements and the life of its creators. This fabulous book is so comprehensive and has wonderful photos.

The introduction starts with a world perspective and a description of :

Rock art in Australia ;

Rock art dating;

Arnhem Land Galleries;

The Land Gulbok:  its physical characteristics and climate;

The People: their totemism, language groups and clan territories; and

Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories and mythology, illustrated by examples of the artwork.

There is a large section on the rock art sites; the materials and techniques used; the aboriginal view of the art; a non-aboriginal sequence of the rock art; and

The different art styles and periods:

Pre-Estuarine : 50 000 to 8000 year ago:

Object imprints;

Large Naturalistic Figures Complex: Large naturalistic human figures and large naturalistic animals, including a thylacine (photo), a long-beaked echidna and a tapir-like Palorchestes, now extinct, and a Tasmanian devil, no longer found on the mainland;BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%IMG_5423Early X-Ray paintings;

Dynamic Figures;

Post-Dynamic Figures: Progressively stylised artwork representing boomerangs, fighting picks, spears and spear throwers, and yam figures.

2.Estuarine : 8 000 to 1500 years ago:

Early Estuarine Paintings;

Beeswax Designs;

X-Ray Art Complex: Humans and animals: fish; crustaceans; fishing spirits.

3.Freshwater Period : 1500 years ago to present day: Paintings of the contact period between aborigines and visitors:

Makassan fisherman from Sulawesi, Indonesia;

European explorers eg Ludwig Leichhardt; the riders and horses of the McKinley Frieze; and paintings of guns and a two-masted lugger.

Chinese gold diggers;

Buffalo shooters; and

Sorcery paintings.

Finally, there is a discussion of :

Particular motifs and themes: East Alligator Figures; Powerful Women; Human Sexuality; Dismembered Bodies; Dilly Bags and String Bags; Crocodiles; Turtles; and Ceremonies;  and

Other art forms: Stencilling; Rock Engraving; Earth Art; and Stone Arrangements.

It finishes with appendices of neighbouring rock art (Kimberleys and Papua New Guinea); and a list of international rock art sites.

Given these unique and priceless art sites are outside and vulnerable to deterioration and damage, these books are so important as a record of the wonderful ancient legacy of Australia’s original inhabitants.

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For more information about Australian rock art, another book, which we don’t have in our library, but is a classic in the field is:  Visions From the Past: The Archaeology of Australian Aboriginal Art by Mike Morwood, an archaeologist, renowned for his knowledge of Aboriginal Art. See:

https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/academic-professional/archaeology/Visions-from-the-Past-MJ-Morwood-9781864487176.

Australia’s Living History: Arts of the Dreaming by Jennifer Isaacs 2002

Another fabulous book, which celebrates the diversity and richness of aboriginal culture, art work and oral traditions and covers a very broad range of artistic expression.

After a look at the regional variations in cultural expression, a wide variety of aboriginal art is discussed:

Body Adornment and Ornamentation;

Ceremony and Dance;

Fibre Crafts: Spinning and natural dyeing; Basket making; String bags and nets;

Rock Engravings and Paintings: Techniques; Styles; and Regional Examples;

Bark Painting;

Papunya Painting of the Desert;

Contemporary Works on Canvas;

Carved Weapons and Utensils;

Sculptures;  and

Future Directions for Aboriginal Art.

In the back is an appendix titled the Antiquity of Aboriginal Art.

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My final book is also edited and compiled by this knowledgeable lady:

Australia Dreaming : 40 000 years of Aboriginal History Edited by Jennifer Isaacs 2005

For aboriginal peoples, their artwork is a proud expression of their heritage and mythology, the stories of the Dreaming, the subject of this lavish book. This first aboriginal history of Australia and its people is told through the traditional myths and legends of over 40 aboriginal storytellers from a wide cross-section of communities and areas, showing regional variations in the beliefs of different aboriginal groups.

The stories are accompanied by beautiful photos of the land, people and artwork and are divided up into different themes:

The Reality of Myth: Arrival of the First Australians and their way of Life; Megafauna;  Rising Seas; and Volcanoes;

The Creation Era: Desert Ancestors and the Creation of the Desert Tors; the Origin of Lake Eyre; the Nullabor Plain; The Sky-Heroes of South Eastern Australia; The Earth Mother; the Great Serpents; the Wandjina; and the Creation Ancestors of NE Arnhem Land and North-Eastern Australia;

The Great Journeys: that of the Zebra Finch; and the Kangaroo and Euro;

Earth, Fire and Water;

Seasons: Lightning; Thunder; and Clouds;

Sun, Moon and Stars;

Cycle of Life: Men and Women; Birth of the Tribes; Early Years; Passage to Adulthood; Hunting and Food Gathering;

Death and the Spirit World;

Designs from the Dreaming;

The Visitors: Baiini; Macassans; and the Badu Islanders; and

The Invaders: First encounters with White Men; Violence; Spread of Disease; Vengeance of the Spirit Ancestors; and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

As my last book in my post, it is very fitting that aboriginal people should have the final word on their own prehistory!

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Next week is the third and final post on history books in our library, covering the time since written records.

History Books : Part One: Archaeology and Anthropology

My previous posts on environmental books highlight the speed with which the modern world has evolved, producing massive changes to our planet and the rest of its inhabitants, but human beings have existed on this planet in harmony with nature for over two million years.

I have always been fascinated by the origins of our species, to the extent that I actually started an archaeology degree back in 2000 at the University of New England, Armidale. Unfortunately, the workload conflicted with our circumstances at the time, when we were still in the throes of child rearing and developing our bed-and-breakfast business, and given the scarcity of jobs in the field, it was always going to be an interest area only, so I only studied for a short while, but have continued to follow new developments and finds over the intervening period.

It is a fascinating area and knowledge and theories are constantly evolving with new discoveries and improvements in dating technologies, like the recent news of the  excavation of the Madjedbebe rock shelter in Kakadu National Park (http://www.news.com.au/technology/science/archaeology/what-globally-significant-archaeological-discovery-in-australia-actually-means/news-story/e5744f4826789b7300afe581d1521f98), so many of the following books are probably out-of-date, but they still form the basis of my knowledge and many of them have links to more up-to-date internet sites.

There are also many new archaeology programs on television, fulfilling that thirst for knowledge about our prehistory that many other people obviously share! One excellent program, which I recently watched was Alice Robert’s Lost Tribes of Humanity (2016) : https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x58use1 .

I will start with two books about the history of our planet’s formation, progressing through to general prehistory books and finally, books related specifically to Australian prehistory. Because of the large word count, I will discuss the latter in Part Two on Thursday.

Prehistory of Planet Earth

A Short History of Planet Earth  by Ian Plimer 2001

Our planet is 4600 Million years old, a time period of such enormity that it is often very difficult to comprehend, so this small publication, written for a non-scientific lay audience, is especially valuable for explaining the basics of the formation of our solar system and its planets, particularly our own planet Earth, its geological processes and the beginning of life forms, starting with cyanobacterial colonies, 3800 Million years ago.

Ian Plimer is a geologist with a special interest in Australia, so he provides plenty of examples of Australian geological history. His book is very readable and interesting, and even poetic in parts. For example:

‘Planet Earth and we humans are recycled stardust;      and

‘Our planet is an oasis in space, delicately balanced in its orbit’.

The first chapter explains the origins of our solar system and its planets and why there is life on earth.

While I am always daunted by the whole field of astronomy, I learnt many interesting new facts like the following:

40 000 tonnes of interstellar dust falls on planet Earth each year.

The earth’s magnetic field can suddenly reverse, an event, which has happened over 100 times over the last 50 million years, even when humans have existed, but would be catastrophic today with our dependence on modern communication.

The rates of continental drift vary from 1 cm per year to 17 cm per year and continents can move more than 1000 km over short geological time spans like 20 million years.

The first multicellular animals appeared 700 to 543 million years ago, leading to an explosion of life 540 to 520 million years ago.

Chapter 2 covers geological time scale, dating methods and the history of geological knowledge, while Chapter 3 examines the beginning of life on earth ‘before the oxygen revolution’, including 3500 million year old stromatolite colonies, some of which we visited at Shark Bay and Lake Clifton, in Western Australia, in 2008 (photos below); and eukaryotic organisms 2700 million years ago; as well as the impact of global glaciations, atmospheric changes and meteorite bombardment.BlogPreHxBooksReszd50%wa visit 027BlogPreHxBooksReszd50%wa visit 030Chapter 4 describes global stretching, resulting in the formation of rift valleys 1700 million years ago; mountain building and the development of continents, the evolution of multicellular organisms and the Age of the Bacteria.

When the glacial period ended 575 million years ago, the number of life forms exploded with most major animal groups appearing in the fossil record 540 to 530 million years ago. This is the subject matter of Chapter 5, well supported by diagrams of the biological time scale and mass extinctions.

While there are 550 million year old fish fossils from China, the first vertebrates appeared 530 million years ago.  Amphibians came on the scene 370 million years ago; reptiles 330 million years ago; insects 310 million years ago; mammals 214 million years ago  and hominids 4 million years ago.

The first land plants colonised continents 470 million years ago, but flowering plants are only 150 million years old. There have also been five major mass extinctions over the past 530 million years, most of which have been caused by impacts from extraterrestrial asteroids and comets.

Chapter 6 discusses the last 175 million years, especially in Australia, the formation of the Great Dividing Range, continental drift and the global greenhouse effect.

Chapter 7 focuses on the ice ages and the evolution of humans, starting with the 4.4 million old fossils of ape-like Ardipithicus ramidus in Ethiopia, followed by 4.2 Million year old Australopithecus aramensis, Northern Kenya; 3.8 to 3 million year old Australopithecus afarensis, East African Rift Valley; 3.5 to 3 million year old Australopithecus bahrelghazali, Chad; and 3 million year old Australopithecus africanus, South Africa.

Global cooling 2.5 million years ago and the resultant contraction of the East African Rift forests and expansion of grassland led to Australopithecine diversification with more species: Australopithecus garhi (2.5 million years ago, between A. africanus and the emergence of own genus, Homo); and a robust group of hominid species Paranthus aethipicus (2 to 1.4 million years ago), Kenya; Paranthus boisei, East Africa; Paranthus robustus and Paranthus crassidens, both South Africa.

Homo first appeared in the East African Rift Valley 2.5 to 1.8 million years ago and since then, numerous new hominid species have emerged, competed, coexisted and colonised new environments . Three early Homos flourished at the time: Homo habilis; Homo rudolfensis and Homo ergaster. Homo habilis had a larger brain than the Australopithecines, had primitive speech, used fire and made stone tools.

During the ice age, beginning 1.6 Million years ago, Australopithecines became extinct; and Homo erectus had migrated out of Africa and into Europe, India, China and South East Asia.

By 800 000 years ago, Home antecessor appeared in Spain; Homo heidelbergensis appeared in Africa 600 000 years ago and was well established in Europe and China 500 000 to 200 000 years ago; Homo neanderthalensis flourished in Europe and Western Asia 200 000 to 30 000 years ago and Homo sapiens, our species first appeared in the fossil record 200 000 to 150 000 years ago in Africa and lived in Europe 40 000 years ago, although this figure has now been increased to 300 000 years ago with the very recent find of Homo sapiens in Morocco. See: http://www.nature.com/news/oldest-homo-sapiens-fossil-claim-rewrites-our-species-history-1.22114 and https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/07/science/human-fossils-morocco.html?_r=0.

Australia was colonised by Homo sapiens up to at least 60 000 years ago, though there I always the chance that Homo erectus may have been the initial colonisers, given they survived in Java up to 40 000 years ago. Knowledge is always changing and growing with each new discovery, making it a very exciting field! The book concludes with chapters on climate change and the geology of history and of the future.

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The Atlas of the Prehistoric World by Douglas Palmer 1999

Sometimes, childrens’ books are an easier way to absorb monumental information and this is an excellent publication with maps of the globe during the different geological time periods, showing continental drift and formation, modern continental outlines, ancient seas and mountain ranges, and subduction zones with annotated key points discussed and a timeline at the top of each page.

The next section explores all the key changes, accompanied by excellent illustrations and examples: the origin of planet Earth and the solar system; aquatic microbes and the emergence of multicellular organisms; the Cambrian explosion; life in Ordovician seas; the colonization of land during the Silurian Period; the Age of the Fishes in Devonian times; the Age of Coal; the Permian expansion of life forms, including mammals; mass extinctions; the Age of the Dinosaurs; early birds and mammals; the evolution of plants and flowers; the giant Riversleigh marsupials; and the divergence of apes and hominids and the human journey.

The Earth Fact File at the back of the book discusses geological time scale; dating methods; geological controversies; rock types; plate tectonics; earthquakes and tsunamis; volcanoes; sedimentation; the fossil record; evolution; and catastrophic events; as well as including biographical entries; a glossary and a list of places and websites to visit. It complements the previous book well.BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%Image (593)

Now for a raft of books, specifically devoted to :

The Prehistory of Mankind

People of the Earth: An Introduction to World Prehistory by Brian M Fagan 12th Edition 2007

An update of my original 1998 archaeology textbook, though now, it is up to its 14th edition (2013)! After defining key archaeological concepts in the introduction, Part One describes the earliest stages of human evolution 7 million years ago to the emergence of tool-making Homo habilis in tropical Africa 2.6 million years ago, the spread of Homo erectus throughout the Old World and the spread of the first modern humans Homo sapiens into South West Asia during the last Ice Age. The text is supported by excellent diagrams, maps, photos of fossilized skulls and bones and tools and descriptions of early archaeological discoveries.

Part Two examines the Great Diaspora- the spread of humans all over the world from 45 000 years ago to modern times: Europe 40 000 to 8 000 BC; the first Americans 14 000 BC to modern times; Past and present African Hunter-Gatherers; Homo floriensis, 900 000 years ago; and the settlement of Australia, now dated to 60 000 years ago. Their lifestyles, tools, art and culture, and survival and adaptations during the Ice Age are all discussed in great detail.

Part Three focuses on the origins and development of agriculture and animal domestication from 10 000 BC on in all areas of the world, starting in South West Asia, and the repercussions- the development of sedentary lifestyles and early agricultural societies, which develop into the Old World urban civilizations and complex states of Part Four from 3000 BC to modern times:

Early Nubian States in the Land of Kush 4000 BC;

Archaic Period of Egypt 3100 BC (hieroglyphics, mummification and pyramids);

Sumerians of early Mesopotamian societies: the Sumerians ( cuneiform writing) 3000 BC; the Akkadians 2334 BC, the Semites 1990 BC and Assyrians 1000 BC;

Harappan civilization in India 2000 BC (pictographic symbols on seals; irrigation and flood control);

Shang Dynasty in Northern China 1766 BC (war lords and royal burial mounds; and bronzework);

Minoan Crete 2000 BC ;

Hittites of Anatolia 1650 BC;

Mycenaean civilization of Greece 1600 BC;

Phoenicians 1100 BC (the Sea People of the East Mediterranean);

Ancient Greeks (500 BC) and Etruscans and Ancient Romans (1 AD);

Angkor Wat, Cambodia 802 AD.

Pre-Roman Europeans: the Kurgans 3200 BC (Battle Axes) and Beakers 2700 BC (Copper); Bronze Age societies: Druids of Stonehenge 2950 BC, Urnfield cultures of Western Hungary (burial urns) 1800 BC, and Scythians of the Steppes from China to Ukraine 400 BC; Iron Age cultures: the Hallstatt culture, Austria 750 BC, La Tene culture of the Celts 390 BC.

Part Five describes the early Native American civilizations from 2000 BC to 1534 AD: the Mayan civilizations: the Olmecs 1500 BC; Teotihuacans 200 BC, Toltecs 900 AD and Aztecs 12th century AD of Mesoamerica and the Chavin 1500 BC ; Moche 200 BC; Chimu 1375 AD and Incas of the Andes 1476 AD in South America.

The book finishes with  glossaries of cultures and sites, and technical terms and a bibliography. It is such a comprehensive book and a wonderful guide to human prehistory.BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%Image (595)Essentials of Physical Anthropology by Robert Jurmain, Harry Nelson, Lynn Kilgare,and Wendy Trevathen   3rd Edition 1998

My other basic text for first-year archaeology! The first few chapters cover key definitions; the development of evolutionary theory; the biological basis of life and principles of inheritance; human evolution and population genetics; human variation and adaptation and the fundamentals of human growth and development.

The next block of chapters investigate our primate origins, behaviour and evolutionary history; our Hominid origins and taxonomy; Home erectus; Neanderthals and other Archaic Homo sapiens; and modern man, Homo sapiens sapiens and Upper Paleolithic art and culture.

The book finishes with a look at future prospects and problems with possible solutions and appendices (primate skeletal anatomy and population genetics), a glossary and a bibliography.

This is another excellent guide with timelines; a running glossary, maps and tables and interesting photo essays on  the tools and techniques of physical anthropology; primate studies; and paleoanthropology.

At the end of each chapter is a summary; questions for review; and suggested further reading and web sites.BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%Image (596)

The next two books are beautifully illustrated  coffee table hardback books, part of a five-part series of The Illustrated History of Humankind, produced by the University of Queensland Press and edited by Goran Burenhult, with chapters from a number of contributors from a wide range of scientific and academic fields:

The First Humans: Human Origins and History to 10 000 BC  1993

Chapters cover diverse topics from human origins and behavioural qualities, the Neanderthals and the Ice Age, prehistoric art and culture, and stone age tools; to the settlement of Ancient Australia; the first Pacific Islanders; the first Americans and early Arctic cultures.

The book starts with a diagram of key advances in the evolution of humans during the Lower, Middle and Upper Paleolithic Periods and finishes with a glossary and notes on the contributors.

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Traditional Peoples Today: Continuity and Change in the Modern World  1994

Starting with a chapter on the evolution of races, populations and cultures, the book progresses to detailed accounts of the customs, economies and social life of indigenous societies in Asia, South-East Asia, Australia, the Pacific, Africa, the Arctic and North and South America.

It finishes with a chapter on the  future challenges of mankind. It has such beautiful photographs of many cultures, of which I had never even heard : the Wahki on the roof of the world; the Bhotia, yak herders on the Changtang Plateau; the Ainu of North Japan ; the Naga headhunters of the Assam Highlands; and the Iatmul of the Sepik River Basin. This is a fascinating book, showcasing the huge global physical, cultural and linguistic variety of our species.

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See : https://www.goodreads.com/series/74407-the-illustrated-history-of-humankind  for the names of the other three books in the series.

Atlas of Man: A Cultural, Historical and Sociological Survey of the Way We Live   Omega Books 1987

This book covers over 400 different peoples throughout the world.

Part One, The World of Man, describes man’s evolution and history over the past 100 000 years and the factors which shape and influence all human societies: the universal features of social organization, kinship, and politics; language, writing and printing, and mass media; religion, ritual and mythology; and economics and lifestyles, finishing with an examination of the impacts of industrialization, modern communication and technology and population growth and their implications for the future of mankind.

Part Two is divided into 9 sections, corresponding to different geographical areas: North American/Caribbean; Central/South America; Europe; Middle East/North Africa; Africa; Soviet Union/Mongolia; India/South Central Asia; China/East and South-East Asia; and Australasia/Pacific region.

Each section begins with the historical, geographical and cultural characteristics of the region with appropriate maps ( including physical geography, population distribution and density;  language groups; colonization; temperature and rainfall; vegetation types) and then there are individual entries describing the countries and main ethnic groups in each region, with a map showing their location and a population estimate, which no doubt has changed considerably over the thirty years since its publication.

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Vanishing Primitive Man by Timothy Severin 1973

Tim Severin is a British explorer, historian, lecturer, film maker and writer, who has made a career out of researching, then re-enacting and writing about the legendary journeys of mythical and historical figures. His books include: Tracking Marco Polo 1964; Explorers of the Mississippi 1968; The Golden Antilles 1970; The African Adventure 1973; The Oriental Adventure: Explorers of the East 1976; The Brendan Voyage 1978;The Sindbad Voyage 1983; The Jason Voyage 1986; The Ulysses Voyage 1987; Crusader: By Horse to Jerusalem 1987; In Search of Genghis Khan 1991; The China Voyage 1994; The Spice Islands Voyage 1997; In Search of Moby Dick: Quest for the White Whale 1999; and Seeking Robinson Crusoe 2002. He has also written historical fiction  with  his Saxon, Viking and Pirate series. See: http://www.timseverin.net/.

We have read the Brendan Voyage. In fact, on our overseas trip in 1994, we actually saw his leather-hulled currach at Craggaunowen, Ireland ( watch the first video on https://www.shannonheritage.com/Craggaunowen/), as well as the spot, from where he launched his voyage (Brandon Creek, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland). His books are always so interesting and readable that I knew this book would be well worth reading!

In this lovely book on the vanishing  tribes of primitive man, Tim describes the physical features; tools and weapons; way of life; art; social organization; beliefs, rituals and customs of a wide variety of primitive peoples from Australian Aborigines and Polynesian and Melanesian Islanders; the hunter-gathering pygmies of Equatorial Africa and the Kalahari Bushmen; the Cunas of Golden Castile, Panama, and the Xavante of Brazil; the Inuit (eskimos) and the Lapps;  and Ainu (Sky People) of Hokkaido, Japan.

Throughout the book are superb photographs, as well as numerous picture portfolios, illustrating more general concepts, including living with nature; the hunter-gatherer lifestyle; the structure of primitive societies; rituals and ceremonies; art; religion and the pressures and changes primitive peoples face.

In the final chapter, he focuses specifically on the problems of contact with the modern world (disease, cultural collapse, psychological decline, habitat destruction, competition for resources, poverty or outright annihilation) and possible solutions to maintaining their cultural heritage, while slowly adapting to the changed world. Unfortunately, it is too late for many primitive tribes, so this book serves as a important record of the wide variety of primitive cultures that used to exist.BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%Image (599)Prehistoric Europe: An Illustrated History Edited by Barry Cunliffe 1998

A detailed look at prehistoric Europe, its changing climate and man’s adaptation and response to these changes and the development of Western culture from the arrival of Stone Age Man to the Fall of the Roman Empire, with chapters written by a number of different experts.

It starts with the historical background to the study of archaeology in Europe; the Ice Age climate and the earliest arrivals in Europe; and the knowledge we can draw from fossil hominids and their tools. It then explores the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution: its economy, society and art, before progressing to the Mesolithic Age: their settlements, dwellings, food, tools, boats, rituals, art and societies.

The following chapters looks at:

The first farmers in Greece and the Balkans, Central and Western Mediterranean and Central and Western Europe during the Neolithic Age;

The transformation of Early Agrarian Europe and the enormous changes which occured;

The Palace Civilizations of Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece;

The emergence of the elites in Early Bronze Age Europe and the development of long-distance trade routes;

The collapse of Aegean civilizations at the end of the Late Bronze Age;

Reformation in Barbarian Europe (the Agricultural Revolution, trade, transport and warfare);

Iron Age societies and Celtic migrations;

Scythian and Thracian societies;

The impact of the Rome Empire on the rest of Europe; and

Barbarian Europe after the Fall of Rome: the Goths and  the Visigoths, the Franks, the  Vandals, the Saxons and Angles and the Slavs: their settlements, cultures, craftsmanship, war and migrations.

It is such a detailed and comprehensive book with over 300 plates, maps and figures. In the back is a list of further reading on each chapter, as well as chronological tables: a simplified time chart; the Palaeolithic Period (climate, technology, human type, culture and achievements and time before present); Early Farming and Metallurgy in the different parts of Europe: Northern, Western, Central, Mediterranean, Balkans and Aegean; and Steppe; the Mediterranean States and Temperate Europe; the Roman Empire (Emperors and Events); as well as the historical events after the Fall of Rome. I wish I had owned this book before our overseas trip in 1994!BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%Image (602)

I have already mentioned Craggaunowen with respect to Tim Severin’s Brendan Voyage, but it is also worth visiting for its living history exhibits of life in a Celtic Bronze Age village, built on an artificial island called a crannog (photo below).BlogPreHxBooksReszd50%Image (621) Heritage Parks are such a wonderful way to get a feel for the past, especially for kids. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cn2wwYfjNAI. My children thoroughly enjoyed exploring the quaint houses, getting their hands dirty, applying mud to wattle-and-daub fences and learning about the weaving and natural dyeing.BlogPreHxBooksReszd50%Image (622) We visited another open-air museum at the Prehistoparc, Tursac in the Dordogne (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKgPzyI35Ns and http://www.prehistoparc.fr/),with life size models of Cro-Magnon Man (Homo sapiens sapiens) and the animals they hunted, many of which we had seen painted and engraved in 12 000 to 15 000 BC artwork on the walls of caves and rock shelters, like that of Font de Gaume, Les Ezyzies; the Cave of 100 Mammoths, Rouffignac; and the recreation copy of Lascaux II, the previous two days.BlogPreHxBooksReszd50%Image (617)BlogPreHxBooksReszd50%Image (617) - CopyThe National Museum of Prehistory at Les Ezyzies (http://en.musee-prehistoire-eyzies.fr/) is a wonderful place to see over one million prehistoric objects from the earliest stone tools to bone objects, harpoons and fish-hooks (photo 2), weapons, needles and points (photo 1); whistles (photo 1); jewellery, engravings (photo 4), female fertility symbols (photo 3) and other phallic objects and a series of skulls and bones showing the development of mankind.BlogPreHxBooksReszd50%Image (618) - CopyBlogPreHxBooksReszd50%Image (618)BlogPreHxBooksReszd50%Image (620)BlogPreHxBooksReszd50%Image (619) We bought the following book there to learn more about the Prehistory of the Perigord region, especially since all the cave tours were in spoken French!

Wonderful Prehistory in the Perigord  by JL Aubarbier, M Binet, JP Bouchard, and G Guichard 1989

This is a very useful guide for visiting the rock art sites of the Dordogne region in France. After introductory chapters on the overall picture of the prehistory of man; Palaeolithic and Neolithic life; and rock art, it focuses on the Dordogne region and all the local rock art sites, supported by wonderful photographs, a full-colour map and explanatory tables illustrating time periods, prehistoric cultures and tool-making technologies and other inventions.

It certainly is a wonderful area to visit to see early prehistoric art in Europe and appreciate the ingenuity and skill of the early rock artists.BlogPreHxBooksReszd25%Image (601)

The Cave Painters : Probing the Mysteries of the World’s First Artists by Gregory Curtis 2007

A fascinating paperback for those of us, who cannot get enough of prehistoric cave art, especially that of France and Spain, and I would say without hesitation that would be anyone, who had ever visited these wonderful sites! They are so dramatic and awe-inspiring and tell us so much about the local lives, their culture and beliefs and the animals they hunted, but there is still so much more that isn’t known!

This book describes various theories about their lives and the role of art, as well as the history of the archaeological discoveries in the area. While many of the known sites are open to the public, some have been closed due to their fragility and potential for damage or contamination  like the original Lascaux ( closed in 1963, though it has been accurately reproduced in the impressive Lascaux II, opened in 1984) and some are underwater like the Cosquer Cave, so it’s great to learn more about them from this book. A very enjoyable and interesting read!BlogPreHxBooksReszd30%Image (604)

On Thursday, I will continue this post with books about Australian Prehistory.