Tasmanians - Orientation

Identification. The term "Tasmanians" refers to the native inhabitants of the island of Tasmania. These inhabitants formed a number of societies and communities, all of which had disappeared as distinct cultural groups by the twentieth century. What is known of the Aboriginal culture is largely the result of archaeological research and reconstructions based on the reports of early European visitors and settlers. The name of the island and its inhabitants is taken from the Dutch navigator, Abel Tasman, who discovered the island in 1642. Despite being extinct, the Tasmanians have continued to draw scholarly and public attention, caused in part by their isolation from other cultures for thousands of years and the Stone Age technology they used when first discovered by Europeans.

Location. Tasmania is an island of some 67,000 square kilometers located about 240 kilometers southeast of mainland Australia, with the two land masses separated by the rough waters of the Bass Strait. Tasmania is a state of Australia. At one time a peninsula of Australia, Tasmania was cut off by rising waters about 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. It is a mountainous island, with a variety of ecological zones, considerable rainfall, and a generally mild climate. Land mammals such as kangaroos, wallabies, and native dogs are relatively abundant as are seals, shellfish, and birds.

Demography. Estimates place the precontact population at from 2,000 to 5,000 individuals.

Linguistic Affiliation. Experts guess that from five to twelve different languages, with some grammatical, phonological, and lexical similarities between them, were spoken by Aboriginal Tasmanians. What relationship those languages had to other Papuan or Australian languages is unknown.

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