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Reconsidering early Australia: New discoveries show continent settled earlier than believed

Ian Harvey

Australia is a vast nation and continent full of natural beauty, unique wildlife, and robust people. Well-known symbols of the continent include the accent of its citizens, the Sydney Opera House, and kangaroos – but for all of its popularity as a tourist destination and its reputation as a wonderful place to live, there are aspects of Australia’s history that have yet to be discerned.

Scientists have long debated exactly when humans settled Australia and created crucial innovations such as tools for survival. The consensus is that humans first arrived on the continent around 50,000 years ago, but previously recorded evidence of early interior settlement and technological development may have to be reconsidered in light of a recent discovery.

Warratyi, located within South Australia Photo Credit

Warratyi, located within South Australia Photo Credit

Researchers have found evidence showing that humans were already settled in the arid interior of Australia 49,000 to 46,000 years ago – 10,000 years earlier than originally thought. As a result, Australia’s earliest history may have to be rewritten.

At the Warratyi rock shelter in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia, researchers from La Trobe University in Melbourne, made discoveries that early humans in the region developed important technologies and relevant cultural practices sooner than previously recorded.

In a paper published in Nature, researchers revealed that, “Important technological innovations and early symbolic behavior reveal that a dynamic, adaptive Aboriginal culture existed in arid Australia within only a few millennia of settlement on the continent.”

Drier part of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia Mountains Photo Credit

Drier part of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia Mountains Photo Credit

Archaeologists unearthed bone tools from 40,000 to 38,000 years ago along with backed stone tools from 30,000 to 24,000 years ago. In addition, there was evidence of the use of gypsum and red ocher as pigments. These date back 40,000 to 33,000 years ago for gypsum and 49,000 to 46,000 years for red ocher, Mail Online reported.

The La Trobe University team also located proof of human coexistence with the earliest known marsupial, Diprotodon optatum, and the large bird, Genyornis newtoni.

 

Diprotodon compared to a human

Diprotodon compared to a human

Dating of the discoveries indicates that early humans had settled Australia within a few millennia of arriving on the continent and provides proof that they had developed important technologies much earlier than previously recorded for Australia and Southeast Asia.

Here is another story from us: According to one of Australia’s top politicians, we were invaded.

While the original 50,000-year arrival date may still be agreed upon, scientists will have to take a new look at where and how these discoveries fit in while reconsidering previously held notions of Australia’s earliest history – perhaps ending the long-standing debate once and for all.