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It has long been conventionally held that Australia is the only continent where the entire Indigenous population maintained a single kind of adaptation—hunting and gathering—into modern times.
Some scholars now argue, however, that there is evidence of the early practice of both agriculture and aquaculture by Aboriginal peoples.
Other scholars question the earlier dating of human arrival in Australia, which is based on the use of optically stimulated luminescence (measurement of the last time the sand in question was exposed to sunlight), because the Northern Territory sites are in areas of termite activity, which can displace artifacts downward to older levels.
In either case, the first settlement would have occurred during an era of lowered sea levels, when there were more-coextensive land bridges between Asia and Australia.
The largest entities recognized by the people were language-named groups, sometimes referred to by Europeans as “tribes.” There may have been as many as 500 such named, territorially anchored groups.
Their members shared cultural features and interacted more with one another than with members of different groups.
Within the past 1,500–3,000 years, other important changes occurred at the general continental level: population increases, the exploitation of new habitats, more efficient resource exploitation, and an increase in the exchange of valued items over wide areas.
Archaeological evidence suggests that occupation of the interior of Australia by Aboriginal peoples during the harsh climatic regime of the last glacial maximum (between 30,000 and 18,000 years ago) was highly dynamic, and all arid landscapes were permanently occupied only roughly 10,000 years ago.
More than 200 different Aboriginal languages were spoken (and hundreds of dialects; Australian Aboriginal languages), and most Aboriginal people were bilingual or multilingual.