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Backtracking to Babel: The Chronology of Pama-Nyungan Expansion in Australia

Patrick Mcconvell
Archaeology in Oceania
Vol. 31, No. 3, The Creation of Time. Ussher's 4004 BC and Beyond (Oct., 1996), pp. 125-144
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40387040
Page Count: 20
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Backtracking to Babel: The Chronology of Pama-Nyungan Expansion in Australia
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Abstract

In the Holocene the Pama-Nyungan language family expanded to cover most of Australia, replacing languages previously spoken in many regions. Most phases of this expansion in the west of the continent have occurred in the last 3000 years as a result of migration, and can be correlated with archaeological evidence of new activity. Intermeshed with the migration of peoples and language expansion are cultural diffusion events which can be assigned a chronology relative to each other and to the migration events by linguistics. These relative chronologies have the potential to become absolute chronologies with the assistance of archaeological evidence. Even without many such clues, however, the method of 'backtracking' described here allows us to construct detailed chronologies for the late Holocene. Known stages of expansion and cultural diffusion are sequenced making reasonable inferences about the time needed between each stage and ensuring that sequences in different regions which link together also connect chronologically, leading to an estimate of 6000 BP for Proto-Pama-Nyungan. Particularly in focus in this paper is the chronology of diffusion of the western section and subsection forms of social categorisation in the last 2000 years, and how this interacts with the later phases of Pama-Nyungan expansion.

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