Australia was populated 18,000 earlier than we thought

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Archaeologists have discovered evidence that suggest that Australia has been populated by Aboriginal people for at least 65,000. It was previously thought that they came there 18,000 years later. Artefacts that are suggesting this were excavated in the Northern Territory. Researchers say they have unearthed oldest ochre crayons and stone axes. Peer-reviewed research can be found in Nature journal. It is based on findings at the Madjedbebe shelter, near Kakadu National Park.

Aborigines are considered world’s oldest continuous civilization. But not all scientists agree on when did they arrive, opinions vary between 47,000 and 60,000 years ago. They would have sailed from islands of South-East Asia. Associate Prof Chris Clarkson, from the University of Queensland, who was lead author of the research said, “We have managed to establish a new age for first occupation in Australia and pushed it back by about 18,000 years beyond what was the previous established age of about 47,000 years.” He also added: “This has huge implications for everything from the out-of-Africa story to the extinction of megafauna and Aboriginal peoples’ own knowledge of how long they have been in this country.”

The out-of Africa theory postulates on when humans first left Africa. Dates of that were debated to be between 60,000 and 100,000 years. This new research moved the bottom up to 65,000 years. This also confirms that humans came before the extinction of Australian megafauna such as a type of giant wombat and a giant carnivorous goanna.

Sydney Morning Herald published a graphic that put new timeframe in the perspective. In the graphic it said that the First Fleet of European settlers in 1787 would have arrived at 23:54 and 56 second, if Aboriginal culture were taken to be 24 hours long. Researchers used Radiocarbon dating was used on charcoal samples. Downside was that limited time determination to 50,000 years. Optically stimulated luminescence was used to try and go beyond that. It measures how much time has passed since the last time buried material was exposed to the sun. It dated around 28,500 individual grains of sand. Result of that was more accurate timeframe than previously.

Assoc Prof Clarkson told that these artefacts found in the lowest layer of the Madjedbebe shelter indicate an “innovative and dynamic early Aboriginal occupation of Australia.”

“We found these beautiful ground stone-edge axes with grooves at one end where the handle would have been attached with resin,” he said.

Researches also found pieces of reflective art minerals like mica wrapped around ground ochre and a slab covered in red ochre mixed with mica. Associate Prof Clarkson also said: “It really tells us that people were heavily into artistic activity,”

The Mirrar population are the traditional owners of the Madjedbebe area. The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation represent their interests. They made deal with the researches regarding the latest dig. They worked with archaeologists by helping them with the excavation of the material.

The Northern Territory rock shelter was excavated four times since the 1970s and around 10,000 are found at the site.