Boabs and the mystery of ancient human settlement in northwest Australia

Display at the Derby boab tree in the Kimberley (Photo: H. Rangan)

The Derby Boab Tree (Photo: H.Rangan)

In our paper just published in PLOS ONE, we show that humans were the main agents for dispersing the boab (Adansonia gregorii) in the Kimberley region of northwest Australia. We combined evidence from boab genetics and linguistic word-forms for boabs in the Aboriginal languages of the Kimberley with palaeoclimatic and archaeological studies, to reveal that these ancient settlers in the remote northwest were responsible for bringing the boabs inland as sea levels started rising dramatically 20,000 years ago.

The results of our study reveal the mystery of ancient Aboriginal settlement and interaction in the Kimberley.  Aboriginal peoples probably lived along the northwest coastal areas of the exposed continental shelf during the last Ice Age and retreated inland as these areas were flooded by rising sea levels. They carried boab fruit with them as they moved inland into central and eastern parts of the Kimberley region, and introduced the tree and associated words to other Aboriginal communities living there. Continue reading