Rivers of Knowledge

Contemporary Implications of People’s Memories of Millennia-old Geological Phenomena


  • Patrick Nunn University of the Sunshine Coast




Ancient stories, sea-level rise, memory, submerged coasts, adaptation


Ancient stories recalling memorable events can be demonstrated as enduring in recognizable form in oral (non-literate or pre-literate) cultures for several millennia. As explained in the author’s 2018 book, The Edge of Memory (Bloomsbury, London), some of the most compelling of these stories are those recalling coastal ‘drowning’, interpreted in most instances as recalling the rise of sea level following the end of the last Ice Age; some of these stories from Aboriginal Australia can be given minimum ages of 7000-10,000 years ago. Examples are also given of ancient stories from Australia and elsewhere that recall volcanic eruptions and meteorite falls, both of which can be dated with some degree of certainty. This paper extends the arguments in The Edge of Memory to an analysis of stories that appear to recall people’s responses to rising sea level more than seven millennia ago and allow insights into their thinking. It seems clear that today, confronted by a similar phenomenon, we can learn from the actions of our distant ancestors.

Author Biography

Patrick Nunn, University of the Sunshine Coast

Patrick Nunn is Professor of Geography at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia but spent most of his career based in Fiji at the University of the South Pacific where his interests in oral traditions and their antiquity took root.


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How to Cite

Nunn, P. (2019). Rivers of Knowledge: Contemporary Implications of People’s Memories of Millennia-old Geological Phenomena. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 4(2), 223-241. https://doi.org/10.1558/jch.38214