Australian’s Earliest Indigenous People Were Around 50,000 Years Ago

The occupation by Australia’s earliest Indigenous people has now been pushed back to more than 50,000 years ago. The discovery was made in a remote cave on the Western Australia coast. The discovery provides the earliest direct dates for Aboriginal use of marine resources in Australia.

The dating of artifacts, sea, and land fauna from sites on Barrow Island provided the evidence that Aboriginal occupation of Australia dated back to a period between 46,200 and 51,100 thousand years.

These estimates push back the earliest dates now widely accepted for the first occupation of Australia. Lead archaeologist Professor Peter Veth said the findings provided unique evidence for the early and successful adaptation of Australian’s earliest Indigenous people to both coastal and desert landscapes of Australia:

The research provides new evidence that humans during the Late Pleistocene had adapted to the desert landscapes by using maritime resources for subsistence. Their findings were published in Quaternary Science Reviews.

Plan and cross section of Boodie Cave showing its position in relation to present shoreline and location of excavation trenches and other features. (Image: via University of Western Australia)

Plan and cross section of Boodie Cave showing its position in relation to present shoreline, and location of excavation trenches and other features. (Image: University of Western Australia)

Archaeologist Dr. Tiina Manne, who specializes in the analysis of animal remains from archaeological sites, explained that the antiquity of this site, along with its exceptionally well-preserved bone and shell, is unknown from other sites in northern Australia:

The fragments of shellfish were consumed 42,500 years ago representing the oldest marine dietary remains found in Australia. Four independent facilities were used to date a range of specimens, which included charcoal and shell.

The combined results of radiocarbon and optical luminescent dating provided largely consistent chronologies. Dr. Vladimir Levchenko, who supervised the radiocarbon dating, said in a statement:

The discovery provides the earliest direct dates for Aboriginal use of marine resources in Australia. (Image: via University of Western Australia)

The discovery provides the earliest direct dates for Aboriginal use of marine resources in Australia. (Image: University of Western Australia)

Barrow Island was once connected to the mainland by a land bridge until 6,800 years ago. Australian’s earliest indigenous occupation of the island was abandoned when sea level rose. Professor Veth said:

One of the largest excavation sites with stratified deposits was the 328-foot-long (100 m) Boodie Cave, where over 10,000 artifacts were recovered. The earliest deposits from the lowest level of the cave included burnt bone, shells, and stone artifacts. The researchers believe that foragers carried mollusks from the coast up to 12.4 miles (20 km) to the cave.

Through all periods of occupation, it was discovered that marine resources were transported to the cave in varying quantities, despite fluctuating sea levels and the dramatic extensions of the coastal plain. The limestone cave itself and the arid climate are credited in providing the excellent preservation of the archaeological deposits.

Like this article? Subscribe to our weekly email for more! 

What Drives the Accelerating Expansion of the Universe?
Study Shows How Earth’s Atmosphere Formed