A new discovery of more than 10,000 artefacts has a team of archaeologists convinced Aboriginal people have been in Australia for at least 65,000 years.
That’s much longer than the 47,000 years argued by some archaeologists.
University of Wollongong researchers and dating specialists were involved in uncovering the findings, which were published in Nature magazine this week.
The new discoveries were found at Madjedbebe, a site on Mirarr land within the Jabiluka Mineral Lease near Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.
The researchers worked in partnership with the Mirarr Traditional Owners under a landmark agreement with the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC).
The site had previously been excavated in 1973 and 1989, before the more recent and more extensive excavations which uncovered more than 10,000 artefacts.
In addition to showing the deep antiquity of Aboriginal occupation, the dig also revealed new evidence of activities and lifestyle.
Associate Professor Chris Clarkson, an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow from the University of Queensland led the expedition, which also included ARC and UOW researchers Professor Zenobia Jacobs, Associate Professor Ben Marwick, Professor Richard Fullagar, Distinguished Professor Richard ‘Bert’ Roberts and Dr Elspeth Hayes.
Prof Jacobs used optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) techniques to date the artefacts and surrounding sediment.
Artefacts from the lowest levels were dated to 65,000 years ago, setting a new minimum age for evidence of human habitation of Australia.
‘’We took a really comprehensive and systematic approach, not just looking at the age but also at the integrity of the site by using individual sand grains as traces for movement through time,’’ Professor Jacobs said.
‘’You don’t often do that because it’s a lot of hard work. You only do it on very special sites.’’
Prof Fullagar said the edge-ground hatchets (also known as ground-edge stone axes) and other artefacts showed the earliest Australians had a variety of sophisticated tools at their disposal from the very beginning.
Prof Roberts added this was not only one of the most comprehensively dated archaeological sites in the country, it covered the span from before human occupation to the present.
‘’But this is not the end of the story, it’s just the start,’’ Prof Roberts said.
‘’After all, Madjedbebe is right at the top of Australia, perhaps close to the first point of entry. What happened after that? Those chapters are still to be written, and with CABAH being launched this will be a focus point of research for the next seven years.’’
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