The Outer DNA
12 November 2013
For the most part of its history, Tasmania is part of mainland Australia and it only occasionally becomes an island. Last period of Tasmania as an island is particularly long and lasts from about 10 500 BP. Aborigines lived probably over 43 000 years in this most southerly region of Australia of which climate was more temperate and even cold during the ice age culminations when the tree line dropped as low as 230 meters above the sea level. Warmer phase is linked to Tasmania peninsular becoming an island and vast expanses of dense rainforest replaced more open landscape. The greatest degree of organisation and the greatest number of sites (and population) were typical for Tasmanian Pleistocene culture. The resources were intensively exploited across the island in almost all its profile. Not unlike their European cousins in the Northern hemisphere just that they coexisted with different animals and plant species around them.
People adapted to the environment and to greater variability created by warmer climate. The communities had different ways of life specialised to the particular advantages of their local land which was shaping the culture of the particular tribe.
Populations that lived into the very recent times represented a direct and unbroken link to this record of human history with tens of thousands years old heritage. Many particular observations were made by the early explorers and recorded for us to glimpse some of these times. From the jewellery and burial habits (cremation), diving practice when collecting shellfish and crayfish to hunting techniques and systems often similar to the mainland societies, adapted or changed for their ways.
They disappeared, we can say almost yesterday in context of this long history. A few places remain preserved as they were for millennia. They are part of our DNA and we should treasure them to avoid great damage.
Relatively fast and late penetration of humans into Australia (similar to America or Pacific Islands) led to more radical interaction between the environment, humans and the animals. As for the pleistocene Aborigines, they also were applying what is known as a fire-stick farming which brought some changes into the landscape with it and as a predator the man influenced significantly life and existence of the home species which lived there before. Animals close to the top of the food chain and animal less mobile were in decline in numbers during this period. Particularly members of so called megafauna were affected and these gradually died out as they were hunted down directly or as result of predatory pressures caused by disappearance of megaherbivors. For some examples of this fauna we can mention a giant wombat (3.8m tail-head x 1,7m shoulder, extinction estimated at 25 000 ya), marsupial lion (90-160kg; Tasmanian and Western Australian specimens were smaller than the eastern Australian ones), Zygomaturus - similar to about medium size hippopotamus, living in the marshes, Genyornis (flightless bird weighing about 220-240 kg) or Megalania, a giant goanna - size between 6-8m and weighing over 1900kg (Ralph Molnar 2004) not known from Tasmania yet (the main areas of records tied to eastern parts of Australia).
Eventually the system balanced out and absorbed the human presence and influence. It is sometimes forgotten that as much as our ancestors lived in the wilderness being directly influenced by other species' existence they themselves, as its part, were a significant factor in the composition and interactions of the species in that big Layer of life. These influences date back to prehistory millions of years old and from the paleohistory point of view (several tens of thousands of years) they can turn into rapid development under specific circumstances such as the examples of the late migrations of humans into these new territories.