There's a Whale in My Bathtub! Submerged Landscapes, Lost Worlds and the Coastal Factor in Prehistory, Auckland Museum, New Zealand

Activity: Talk or presentationLecture


Abstract: For most of human history on this planet over the past 2 million years, sea level has been lower than the present by as much as 130m, exposing up to 20 million square kilometres of prime territory for human occupation on the now-submerged continental shelf. When sea level rose at the end of the Last Ice Age, all of this territory, its coastlines and its associated archaeological evidence was drowned and assumed to have been lost for ever. This fact has been well established for at least 50 years, and is such an obvious and massive gap in the archaeological record that, like the proverbial elephant in the room, it has been all but ignored in professional archaeological discourse. The conventional narrative of world prehistory has, therefore, been dominated throughout the 20th century by developments on land – scavenging, hunting and gathering, early domestication, village farming and urbanisation – and the maritime factor has been consigned to the margins of prehistory – to recent millennia, or to far flung corners of the globe like Norway, Alaska, New Zealand and Tierra del Fuego. In the past decade, better understanding of sea-level change, new technologies and strategies of underwater exploration and new ideas have begun to overturn this convention, suggesting that coastlines, maritime adaptations and sea crossings were part of the early human repertoire that helped to propel the earliest members of the genus Homo out of Africa across the Red Sea into Arabia, and thence to Europe, Asia and ultimately the furthest corners of the globe. I shall examine the reasons for this slow change in the history of ideas, and the new evidence that is now coming to light in support of the new paradigm.
Period14 Apr 2016
Held atAuckland Museum, New Zealand