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

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We were recently on air!

by Priya Rangan

On Thursday 16 October, Tom and I were interviewed by Vanessa Mills, the radio program host of Mornings on ABC Kimberley. During the 15 minute interview, we chatted with Vanessa about our research project on indigenous cultural perspectives regarding unwanted plants in their landscapes. She was particularly interested in the team’s recent research visit to a field site in southern India, and in Tom’s doctoral research project on indigenous weed management with Aboriginal ranger groups in the West Kimberley.

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Field Trip: Kimberley

By Christian Kull

The team of our current ARC-funded project on local knowledge and uses of environmental weeds recently assembled in Kununurra, far northwest Australia. The project will compare local people’s views of “weeds” across four case studies in four countries around the Indian Ocean – India, South Africa, Madagascar, and Australia. My Monash colleague Priya Rangan and I are collaborating with Charlie Shackleton (Rhodes University, South Africa) and Ramesh Kannan (ATREE, India), supported by Tom Bach (doctoral student on our previous ARC grant) and Pat Lowe (Kimberley-based author and environmentalist).

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