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Long History, Deep Time

Long History, Deep Time: Deepening Histories of Place OPEN ACCESS

Ann McGrath
Mary Anne Jebb
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Long History, Deep Time
    Book Description:

    The vast shape-shifting continent of Australia enables us to take a long view of history. We consider ways to cross the great divide between the deep past and the present. Australia’s human past is not a short past, so we need to enlarge the scale and scope of history beyond 1788. In ways not so distant, these deeper times happened in the same places where we walk today. Yet, they were not the same places, having different surfaces, ecologies and peoples. Contributors to this volume show how the earth and its past peoples can wake us up to a sense of place as history – as a site of both change and continuity. This book ignites the possibilities of what the spaces and expanses of history might be. Its authors reflect upon the need for appropriate, feasible timescales for history, pointing out some of the obstacles encountered in earlier efforts to slice human time into thematic categories. Time and history are considered from the perspective of physics, archaeology, literature, western and Indigenous philosophy. Ultimately, this collection argues for imaginative new approaches to collaborative histories of deep time that are better suited to the challenges of the Anthropocene. Contributors to this volume, including many leading figures in their respective disciplines, consider history’s temporality, and ask how history might expand to accommodate a chronology of deep time. Long histories that incorporate humanities, science and Indigenous knowledge may produce deeper meanings of the worlds in which we live.

    eISBN: 978-1-925022-53-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, Archaeology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Foreword (pp. ix-x)
    Dipesh Chakrabarty

    For all the methodological innovations that the discipline of academic history has seen since its birth in Europe in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, historians have on the whole, in deciding what constitutes historical evidence, clung to the idea of the primacy of the written word, of textual sources, and have been satisfied to leave the business of dating and interpreting ancient artefacts and material remains of human civilisations to prehistorians and archaeologists. While it has to be granted that these boundaries have occasionally been breached in some areas, such as in ancient Roman or Greek histories or in art...

  2. Ann McGrath

    Long History, Deep Timeasks whether it is possible to enlarge the scale and scope of history.¹ If so, the vast shape-shifting continent of Australia may be a good place to start. It hosted a very long human history that endured through the great climatic epochs of the Pleistocene and Holocene. Rising and falling seas carved out new islands and coastlines, creating the larger Ice Age continent of Greater Australia that was connected to current-day New Guinea and Tasmania. Over time, its edges and internal waterways facilitated different kinds of travel, and its people created worlds of their own making....

  3. 2. Tjukurpa Time (pp. 33-46)
    Diana James

    Before it was written it was told and sung; this ancient land resounded to the language of its first peoples. The Indigenous history and creation ontology of Australia has been continuously retold in story and song, and performed in dance passed down through countless generations, before ever lines on a page tried to fence it into the timeline of written history or authoritative text. The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara peoples of the Western Desert refer to their history as a continuum of ancestral to present time in their country – one that is both spiritually and physically remembered. Anangu locate both creation...

  4. Peter J. Riggs

    The term ‘deep time’ denotes vast, extremely remote periods of (natural or other) history – distant and extensive spans of time that are almost beyond the grasp of the human mind. In western science, deep time is used to refer to eras dating back to the formation of the Earth (about 4.5 billion years ago) as indicated by empirical evidence, for example, the geological record. The geologist Stephen J Gould provides the following portrayal of deep time in his bookTime’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle:

    [I]mposed by geology … ‘deep time’ … [is] the notion of an almost incomprehensible immensity … so...

  5. Rob Paton

    The poet Seamus Heaney in his famous workBogland² speaks to the connection of the Irish people to their land:

    Every layer they strip

    Seems camped on before.

    The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage

    The wet centre is bottomless

    He imagines Ireland’s peat bogs to be a timeless, bottomless land that has forever been camped on. For Heaney, these bogs are as deep and mysterious as the ancient Irish whose archaeological relics are uncovered by modern-day peat miners who strip away the layers. Of course, we know Ireland’s peat bogs are neither timeless nor bottomless. Scientists have shown that they...

  6. Karen Hughes

    In conducting historical research with Aboriginal women and their families between 1984 and 2007, I became aware of how contemporary manifestations of deep time, as an ‘irruption of Dreaming’,¹ frequently coursed through their life narratives and storytelling practice. Evidence for this phenomenon is from elders from the Roper River (Ngukurr) region of south-east Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, and from Ngarrindjeri elders of the Coorong and Lower Murray Lakes of south-eastern South Australia who were residing in suburban Adelaide. These were women from widely divergent backgrounds but with a similar way of understanding, structuring and speaking about the past or its...

  7. Luke Taylor

    This chapter compares two instances of development in the market for bark painting in western Arnhem Land at the towns of Oenpelli (Kunbarlanya) and Maningrida, east of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. The intention is to compare the impacts of the agency of art collectors with that of the artists on the developing market for bark paintings, including a consideration of the entanglements of art creation and its respective intellectual frames in intercultural circumstances. In particular, I examine the effects of western categories used to define the bark paintings and how this in turn shapes the translation of...

  8. Peter Read

    Darug people, that is, the Aboriginal clans of Sydney’s west, claim that they are entitled to the privileges and responsibilities that derive from their clear heritage of Aboriginal descent. They assert that they have always been so entitled, the more so since they formed themselves into two corporations. These are the Darug Custodians Aboriginal Corporation, and the Darug Tribal Elders.² Since becoming incorporated in 1997, the two Darug groups meet regularly for social functions, offer Welcomes to Country, produce books and maintain a vigorous cultural centre.³ They cannot, however, form another Local Aboriginal Land Council because, under the terms of...

  9. Julia Torpey Hurst

    My doctoral research focused on developing a spatial approach to oral history storytelling to create a biographical landscape history scattered across locations in the Blue Mountains, Western Sydney and areas of coastal Sydney, as directed by the Aboriginal storytellers. Together, our aim has been to illuminate the subtleties of attachment to place that inform Aboriginal identity – the contemporary and historical, political, environmental, and artistic representations and connections to, and in, place. In our project, ‘place’ refers to a chosen locality significant to the storyteller’s history. It has become a metaphor or signifier, a catalyst to connect, add to, or withdraw...

  10. Jeanine Leane

    The construct of ‘history’ defines time as a space that can be measured. Time flows in a certain linear direction where people ‘make’ history. Historical discourse defines timelessness as an existence where time is not marked but melds in an unchanging, static environment. This chapter looks at the reconfiguration of time, place, history, memory, myth, magic and impossibility in Waanyi writer Alexis Wright’s storyCarpentaria.

    Carpentariais an Aboriginal narrative set in the fictional coastal town of Desperance by the Gulf of Carpentaria in north-western Queensland.² There are few familiar moorings for readers whose ethnocentric education presupposes that literature and...

  11. Bruce Pascoe

    In 1844 Charles Sturt’s party was dying in what was to become known as Sturt’s Stony Desert. One of them, Poole, was so badly afflicted by scurvy that he had been sent back to the base camp. But he died on the way. Most of the others were not much better off and the horses could barely walk.

    The men climbed countless sand hills and on reaching the summit of another they were hailed by a party of Aboriginal people. Sturt estimated that there were almost 300 people and they seemed to be welcoming them. As Sturt recorded, if they...

  12. Harry Allen

    ‘Deep Time and Deep Histories’ represents more than our ability to accurately measure time or to construct new versions of human history based on genetics and molecular biology. As such, seeking to understand the human place in nature is to undertake a significant political task.¹ For humans living in the twenty-first century, exploring these issues is central to our self-understanding and our aspirations for the future.

    This review of archaeological accounts of the past has as its subject the transcendental idea of human progress, which presents human history as passing through a series of progressive stages defined by essentialist criteria....

  13. Martin Porr

    Within Palaeolithic archaeology and palaeoanthropology a general consensus seems to have formed over the last decades that modern humans – people like us – originated in Africa around 150,000 to 200,000 years ago and subsequently migrated into the remaining parts of the Old and New World to reach Australia by about 50,000 years ago and Patagonia by about 13,000 years ago.¹ This view is encapsulated in describing Africa as ‘the cradle of humankind’. This usually refers to the origins of the genus Homo between two and three million years ago, but it is readily extended to the processes leading to the origins...

  14. Nicola Stern

    Efforts to extend history into deep time have been driven largely (though not exclusively) by historians interested in breaking the apparently artificial barrier that separates historical narratives based on written or oral testimonies from those based on the study of material remains.¹ However, to achieve this goal, historians and archaeologists will have to grapple with the substantive implications of studying the unique material archives that are the particular purview of the historical sciences. This chapter explores some of the issues involved in doing so by investigating the empirical characteristics of an archaeological record that spans the entire known history of...

  15. Malcolm Allbrook and Ann McGrath

    In the Willandra Lakes region of south-western New South Wales, Australia, research over the past 45 years has created a vivid picture of interactions between humans and their environment spanning an immensely long period of time. The landscape provides an archaeological record of grand proportions, almost unique in its capacity to offer a complex picture of Pleistocene Aboriginal life.¹ Understandings of this landscape, and of Australia as a continent and nation, were changed by the unearthing in 1968 of the remains of a young woman who would later become known as Mungo Lady, and who is now estimated to have...