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Featured News Public lecture on a lost coastline

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Tue, 4 Oct 2016

Public lecture on a lost coastline

A free public lecture in Cairns this Thursday (6 October) will focus on the archaeology and deep history of Australia’s coastline and sea country.

“The sea is central to the lives of contemporary coastal Indigenous Australians, and that’s a connection that has endured through tens of thousands of years and periods of monumental environmental change,” James Cook University archaeologist Professor Sean Ulm said.

At the time of human colonisation of Australia, around 50,000 to 55,000 years ago, sea-levels were more than 60 metres lower than today, and mainland Australia was joined to both Papua New Guinea and Tasmania.

“After the peak of the last ice age, around 20,000 years ago, the rising seas swallowed up around 1.3 million square kilometres, or nearly one-fifth of the Australian land mass,” Professor Ulm said.

“Whole communities and generations of people were displaced by sea-level change – something we now consider with a fresh interest. These massive changes in human societies are recorded in oral histories and in the archaeological record.”

In his lecture, Professor Ulm will discuss what archaeology can tell us about how past sea-level changes impacted on the lives of coastal people.

“Some of those impacts are relatively straightforward for archaeologists to investigate, while others are less tangible, or have only recently begun to be revealed thanks to great advances in technology and technique,” he said.

“For example, we know a lot about how people adapted their diet and location of settlements over the last 5,000 years in response to local environmental changes, but we don’t have any idea of the lives of people who lived on the now-submerged continental shelf, tens of thousands of years ago. To explore the latter we need to harness cutting-edge remote sensing technologies, to map the fine details of the seabed and locate potential archaeological sites.

In this lecture Professor Ulm will consider what we know, what we think we know and what we would like to know about the deep history of coastal living in Australia.

“These days around 85 per cent of the Australian population lives within 50 kilometres of the coast, and rising sea levels are very much on our minds,” he said.

Sean Ulm is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Director of the Tropical Archaeology Research Laboratory at James Cook University, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and an Honorary Research Fellow of the Queensland Museum.

His publications include more than 90 articles and 5 books on the archaeology of Australia. He has conducted research throughout Australia as well as in Honduras, Chile, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.

The lecture will be held at the Pullman Cairns International in Abbott Street, on Thursday 6th October. Please be seated by 6.20pm for a 6.30pm start. Admission is free and all are welcome.

Please register at: alumni.jcu.edu.au/ProfLectures. Light refreshments will be served after the lecture.