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03 October 2007 (News in Science) – Monash University unveils an interactive map called Sahul Time, named after the ancient landmass of Australia and Papua New Guinea, that shows you the lay of the land at different points in time over the last 100,000 years. While the main focus is of course on Australia, what’s really nifty is the inclusion of much of island Southeast Asia, which would provide anyone with an interest about the prehistory of the region to see how much larger the land mass must have been – and possibly how many archaeological sites now remain underwater. Links in this post will lead to the News in Science article, while a separate link to Sahul Time will be added to the resources page.

Mouse click reveals ancient coastline
Anna Salleh

The changing shape of Australasia can now be seen in a new interactive digital map that mimics the rise and fall of sea levels over the past 100,000 years.

The map also has pop-up images and text about key archaeological sites and possible routes humans took from Asia to Australia during the last ice age.

View the map here.

“What I’ve done is take a lot of the paradigms of Google Earth and extend them by the extra dimension of time,” says designer, Matthew Coller who presented his map at the recent Australasian Archaeological Conference at the University of Sydney.

Understanding the effect of sea level changes over time is fundamental to archaeology, says Coller, a Monash University multimedia lecturer with an interest in archaeology.

He wanted to find a way to visualise such changes to help both the general public and archaeologists better understand routes of human migration and other archaeological questions.

Coller used data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Geoscience Australia of the sea floor and changes in sea level around Australia and Asia.

He then embedded other information into the map, which can be made to appear at different periods through time.

By sliding a marker back and forwards, you can see how coastlines changed, when it might have been possible for humans to cross land bridges or to island hop between continents.

By hovering over or clicking on various icons possible migration routes from Asia to Australia become visible.

It is also possible to see photographs of various locations as they appear at times and information boxes on archaeological theories.

Important archaeological sites such as Lake Mungo are also tagged at the appropriate time.

Theories come to life

The map is called Sahul Time, after the name for the ancient continent of Australia and New Guinea.

Coller hopes it will be useful for archaeologists in visualising their data and testing theories.

“Often the process of concretising these difficult concepts makes it easier to form a mental model so you can analyse things at a deeper level,” he says.

As well as helping archaeologists, Coller hopes the map will help to communicate archaeology to the public.

“It puts archaeologists’ discoveries into the geo-morphological context,” he says.

He hopes ongoing input from archaeologists will help him improve the map.

“It’s not a piece of crappy multimedia that doesn’t change,” he says. “It will be updated as theories change.”

Related books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Glances: Prehistory of the Philippines by J. T. Peralta
The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia by N. Tarling (Ed.)
East of Wallace’s Line : Studies of Past and Present Maritime Cultures of the Indo-Pacific Region (Modern Quaternary Research in Southeast Asia, V. 16)
Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago by P. Bellwood
Indo-Pacific Prehistory 1990. Proceedings of the 14th Congress Held at Yogyakarta. Vol 1 & 2. by P. Bellwood (Ed)
Man’s conquest of the Pacific: The prehistory of Southeast Asia and Oceania by P. Bellwood

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