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First underwater indigenous sites found on Australian seabed

First underwater indigenous sites found on Australian seabed

Westward facing aerial view of Cape Bruguieres Channel at high tide.  Credit: J. Leach

An international team of archaeologists from Flinders University, The University of Western Australia, James Cook University, Airborne Research Australia and the University of York (United Kingdom), in partnership with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, has located Australia’s oldest known underwater Aboriginal archaeological sites.

The sites were discovered off the Pilbara coast in Western Australia during a series of archaeological and geophysical surveys conducted in the Dampier Archipelago, as part of the Deep History of Sea Country project, which is funded through the ARC’s Discovery Projects scheme.

The ancient underwater sites, at Cape Bruguieres and Flying Foam Passage, provide new evidence of Aboriginal ways of life from when the seabed was dry land, due to lower sea levels, thousands of years ago.

At Cape Bruguieres, the dive team mapped 269 artefacts in shallow water. Radiocarbon dating and analysis of sea-level changes show the site is at least 7,000 years old.

The second site at Flying Foam Passage includes an underwater freshwater spring 14 metres below sea level. This site is estimated to be at least 8,500 years old.

The team of archaeologists and geoscientists employed predictive modelling and various underwater and remote sensing techniques, including scientific diving methods, to confirm the location of sites and presence of artefacts.

The submerged cultural landscapes are known today as Sea Country to many Indigenous Australians, who have a deep cultural, spiritual and historical connection to these underwater sites. Researchers say that the discovery emphasises the need for stronger federal legislation to protect and manage underwater heritage sites in Australia.


‘Our results represent the first step in a journey of discovery to explore the potential of archaeology on the continental shelves which can fill a major gap in the human history of the continent,’ says Associate Professor Jonathan Benjamin, from Flinders University.

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