It has been largely accepted that Australian Aboriginal people practicing hunting and gathering traditionally underused their objective economic possibilities by working short hours relative to nonhunter-gatherer populations. However, the possibility that their subsistence quest might have been limited by potential heat strain has not been considered for Australian hunter-gatherers. In this article the influence of work and heat load on the potential for heat strain among adult male Australian Aboriginal people is modelled. The possibility that the short working day of Arnhem Land adults reported in the literature might reflect ecologically limited work scheduling by way of potential heat strain is examined. Three climatic regions of the North of Western Australia and the Northern Territory were identified, using data available from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Data from the months of January, April, July, and October were used with the United States Army Heat Strain Model, along with assumptions with respect to work load and time scheduling.
Predictive modelling indicates that a late start to the working day could carry considerable risks of potential heat strain during the summer, when humidity and maximum daily temperature are highest for all three climatic regions, but especially in the tropical coastal region. While extended work times may have been needed to acquire adequate food under traditional conditions, work output could have been limited by potential heat strain under some conditions likely to have prevailed. Am J Phys Anthropol 116:236–245, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.