Monday, 24 July 2017

The oldest continuous culture in the world just became est. 18,000 years older

Jabiru, Northern Territory: Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for a minimum of 65,000 years, a team of archaeologists has established - 18,000 years longer than had been proved previously and at least 5000 years longer than had been speculated by the most optimistic researchers.

The world-first finding, which follows years of archaeological digging in an ancient camp-site beneath a sandstone rock shelter within the Jabiru mining lease in Kakadu, Northern Territory, drastically alters the known history of the trek out of Africa by modern humans, according to the leader of the international team of archaeologists, associate professor Chris Clarkson of the University of Queensland.

The findings, which are already causing intense interest in archaeological circles across the world, have been peer reviewed by internationally recognised scientists and are published this week in the world's most prestigious science journal, Nature.

Among the trove of discoveries are the world's oldest stone axes with polished and sharpened edges, proving that the earliest Australians were among the most sophisticated tool-makers of their time: no other culture had such axes for another 20,000 years.

"The axes were perfectly preserved, tucked up against the back wall of the shelter as we dug further and further," Professor Clarkson told Fairfax Media.

"There was one on the surface, another further down that we dated at 10,000 years. Then there were quite a few further down still which were able to date at 35,000 to 40,000 years, and finally one at 65,000 years, surrounded by a whole bunch of stone flakes."

The team had also found the oldest known seed-grinding tools in Australia, a large buried midden of sea shells and animal bones, and evidence of finely made stone spear tips.

Professor Clarkson said one of the most striking finds was the huge quantity of ground ochre, right from the oldest layers. This suggested the first humans to populate Australia were already enthusiastic artists, and had continued to be so through their continuing culture in an area known for its spectacular rock art…..

The discovery also confirms that Australian Aborigines undertook the first major maritime migration in the world - they had to sail a minimum of 90 kilometres across open sea to reach their destination whatever route they took in their long journey out of Africa.

No other humans had undertaken such a journey 65,000 years ago. However, after crossing between islands, they could have walked the last stretch between Papua New Guinea and northern Australia because sea levels were so low at that time, Professor Clarkson said.

Nature, Published online 19 July 2017, Human occupation of northern Australia by 65,000 years ago:

The time of arrival of people in Australia is an unresolved question. It is relevant to debates about when modern humans first dispersed out of Africa and when their descendants incorporated genetic material from Neanderthals, Denisovans and possibly other hominins. Humans have also been implicated in the extinction of Australia’s megafauna. Here we report the results of new excavations conducted at Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in northern Australia. Artefacts in primary depositional context are concentrated in three dense bands, with the stratigraphic integrity of the deposit demonstrated by artefact refits and by optical dating and other analyses of the sediments. Human occupation began around 65,000 years ago, with a distinctive stone tool assemblage including grinding stones, ground ochres, reflective additives and ground-edge hatchet heads. This evidence sets a new minimum age for the arrival of humans in Australia, the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa, and the subsequent interactions of modern humans with Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Extended Data Figure 3: Grinding stones, residues and usewear of specimens collected from phase 2 at Madjedbebe.

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