Humans arrived in Australia much earlier than thought

Kramer Phillips By Kramer Phillips | 3 years ago

A new study published in the journal Nature is re-writing the history of human occupation of Australia. Archaeologists have found evidence suggesting that the forebears of Aboriginal Australians arrived in the northern part of the continent as far back as 65,000 years ago, or even earlier.

“This is the earliest reliable date for human occupation in Australia,” said Peter Hiscock, an archaeologist at the University of Sydney who was not involved in the study, in an email to The New York Times. “This is indeed a marvelous step forward in our exploration of the human past in Australia.”

New excavations of an aboriginal rock shelter called Madjedbebe push back the date when humans first came to Australia by between 5,000 and 18,000 years. It also means that people coexisted with giant Australia megafauna, such as enormous wombats and monster lizards, for longer than previously believed and may not have been responsible for hunting them to extinction.

“We were gobsmacked by the richness of material that we were finding at the site: fireplaces intact, a ring of grind stones around it, and there were human burials in their graves,” said lead author Chris Clarkson, an archaeologist at the University of Queensland, in the Times report. “No one dreamed of a site so rich and so old in Australia.”

The team used radio carbon dating and a technique called optically stimulated luminescence to date the items.

Dr. Clarkson and his team unearthed more than 11,000 artifacts from the earliest layers of the excavation site, including an ancient campfire, painting material, archaic mortars and pestles, axes, and flaked stone tools. They also found examples of edge-ground axes that are 20,000 years older than any others found in the world.