A discovery by researchers at The University of Queensland, in a project led by ARC Future Fellow, Professor Chris Clarkson, has revealed that Aboriginal people have been in Australia for at least 65,000 years—much longer than the 50,000 years believed by many archaeologists.

The team of archaeologists and international dating specialists found new evidence at the Madjedbebe site on Mirarr land within the Jabiluka mineral lease, surrounded by the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.

Excavation of the site discovered ancient technologies and evidence of lifestyles and activities, with artefacts uncovered in three distinct pulses of occupation. Among the artefacts, the researchers found many grindstones used for grinding seeds for food and ochre to make pigments. Also collected were very rare items, including the world’s oldest known edge-ground axe heads and oldest known use of reflective pigment to make a vibrant paint.

The researchers used radiocarbon dating as well as optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) methods to accurately date the artefacts. OSL estimates the time elapsed since sand grains were last exposed to sunlight. The results dated the age for the settlement of this area of Australia at 65,000 (plus or minus 5,000) years ago.

To make the research possible, a landmark collaborative agreement was reached between The University of Queensland (and associated researchers) and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation representing the Mirarr traditional owners of the site.

The findings have given researchers a greater understanding of the sophistication of the Aboriginal toolkit, the significance of the Jabiluka area, and also promoted discussion about the timing and ways that modern humans first left Africa.

Image: Team leader Professor Chris Clarkson with site custodian May Nango. Photo reproduced courtesy of Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation.
Image credit: Dominic O’Brien.