Around the world we find stories of land lost beneath the waves, often in places of particular value such as castles, temples and prized hunting grounds. The key detail in all of these is that the water did not subsequently recede, suggesting that perhaps they are recollections of sea level rise through floods or extreme-wave events. Superimposed upon a baseline of rising sea-levels such flooding would have a cumulative and irreversible impact upon the landscape. Could it be that it was only when such extreme change occurred that sufficient attention was given to sea level rise, causing stories of inundation to emerge and endure? Examples are given from the Celtic seaboard, India and Australia. Whilst the Celtic stories of Ireland and Wales have largely survived in literary form those of India and Australia belong solely to an oral tradition. In Australia almost all appear to recall a time when sizeable areas of the continental shelf were dry land. It is argued that Aboriginal culture, which emphasizes transgenerational instruction, was able to sustain such oral traditions far longer than elsewhere, so could it be that such stories recall the effects of postglacial sea-level rise that occurred millennia ago? In the case of Australia most seem to be more than 7000 years old, far older than many scholars would usually allow for oral traditions to survive. If correct, it would underscore the importance of looking anew at story traditions elsewhere to see whether they too might contain information about the distant past.
21st European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) Annual Meeting, Glasgow, Scotland 2-5 September 2015
21st European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) Proceedings / pp.507