Humans settled earlier in Australia's remote outback

November 2, 2016

Profile view of Warratyi Rock Shelter elevated above local stream catchment. Credit: Giles Hamm
Humans started to settle inland Australia 10,000 years earlier than previously believed, scientists said Thursday, after discovering thousands of artefacts and bones in a rock shelter in the remote outback.

People are thought to have arrived in Australia around 50,000 years ago. But the timing of their settlement in the arid interior, their use of tools and their interaction with ancient animals has been under debate.

The researchers said the discoveries in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, 450 kilometres (280 miles) from the state capital Adelaide, showed that humans occupied the site from 49,000 to 46,000 years ago.

"We present evidence from Warratyi in the southern interior that shows that humans occupied arid Australia by around (49,000 years ago), (10,000 years) earlier than previously reported," the report published in the journal Nature said.

The objects recovered from layers of sediment also represented the earliest-known use in Australia of technologies such as bone tools (40,000 to 38,000 years ago) and pigments like red ochre (49,000 to 46,000 years ago).

"It complements the work that has been done on Australia's coasts. It fits in with this threshold of dates... between 45,000 and 50,000 (years ago)," research archaeologist Giles Hamm from South Australia's La Trobe University, the study's lead researcher, told reporters.

"What is different about it is it's the southern-most oldest site in the continent ... it shows that people are moving very quickly around the continent and in the interior part of the continent.

"If people are coming in at 50,000 (years ago), it means that people are moving in a whole range of directions perhaps. And we've got some new genetic evidence that might be also adding data to that question."

The study—which also involved the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and Clifford Coulthard from the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association—recovered 4,300 artefacts, three kilogrammes (6.6 pounds) of bones, ochre and plant matter.

A recovered bone chunk was identified as coming from a Diprotodon optatum, the largest-known marsupial, while an eggshell was linked to a giant extinct bird, suggesting that humans were interacting with ancient animals, megafauna expert Gavin Prideaux from Flinders University said.

"Humans evidently lived alongside these animals and hunted them, so the idea that there wasn't any interaction between people and these animals is put to bed now," Prideaux added.

A sharpened bone point, dated to 40-38 kyr old and now the oldest bone tool yet found in Australia. Likely to be ground from the cylindrical portion of the proximal end of a macropod fibula similar in size to Petrogale xanthopus, Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby. Giles Hamm

Explore further: World's oldest axe fragment found in Australia

More information: Giles Hamm et al. Cultural innovation and megafauna interaction in the early settlement of arid Australia, Nature (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nature20125

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not rated yet Nov 03, 2016
No One Knows About The Third Human Admixture Into Melanesians - RAZIB KHAN

Several people have asked me on email and Twitter about this, and I told them to ignore it . The reason I say this is that I was in the room when the presentation was given, and it was clear people were having a hard time following what was going on. Afterward several pretty intelligent statistical human geneticists expressed great confusion.


not rated yet Nov 03, 2016
Quite amazing humans had settled as far south (and inland) as the Flinders Ranges. Really interesting result from some solid scientific work.

But I do wish people would get their tenses right ("it shows that people are moving very quickly around the continent and in the interior part of the continent" and "If people are coming in at 50,000 (years ago), it means that people are moving in a whole range of directions perhaps."

'are' and 'were' - two very different things : )
not rated yet Nov 03, 2016
The native Australians say that they had to kill off a race of giants who ate the normal humans as food when they arrived.
not rated yet Nov 03, 2016
Quite amazing humans had settled as far south (and inland) as the Flinders Ranges.

I've wondered about that too. I'm sure I can look this up, but is it possible that the continent was covered by an inland sea that facilitated such diverse and widespread movement?
not rated yet Nov 05, 2016
Giant wombat - another very excellent animal we need to bring back to find out what sounds it makes. Does it roar, grunt, whistle?

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