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Ancient Aboriginal fish traps refocus Australian history debate

Were pre-colonial indigenous people farmers or hunter-gatherers?

Detail of an 1890s photograph showing ancient stone fish traps, on display at the Brewarrina Aboriginal Cultural Museum. (Geoff Hiscock)

BREWARRINA, Australia -- A complex array of ancient stone fish traps in the Australian Outback has become a touchpoint in Australia's growing debate about the nature of Aboriginal life before European settlement began in 1788.

At its heart, the debate is about whether Aboriginal people, who are believed to have occupied Australia for more than 60,000 years, were nomadic hunter-gatherers, farmers, or a sophisticated and flexible combination of the two.

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