EARLY MODERN HUMANS IN AUSTRALIA
Dispersion of haplogroup
to Australia Some of the earliest evidence of modern humans outside of Africa and the Middle East is not in Asia or Europe but in Australia. There is evidence of human habitation at Malakunaja in northern Australia dated to 65,000 years ago and evidence of human habitation at Lake Mungo in southern Australia dated to 45,000 years ago. The descendants of these modern humans remained genetically isolated until fairly recently.
Earliest evidence of modern humans in Australia — artifacts dated to 65,000 years before present — is from Madjedbebe in Northern Territory. The oldest human skeletal remains are the 40,000-year-old Lake Mungo remains in New South Wales, but human ornaments discovered at Devil's Lair in Western Australia have been dated to 48,000 years before present. Earliest evidence of modern humans in Tasmania — 41,000 years before present — is from Jordan River Levee. Optically stimulated luminescence results from the site suggest a date ca. 41,000 before present. Rising sea levels isolated Tasmania after 8000 before present. [Source: Wikipedia]
Fossils of similar age have been found in Asia but the oldest modern man fossils found in Europe are about 45,000 years old. This means that modern humans made its way its way from across Asia and took boats to Australia around 20,000 years before they traversed a much shorter distance to Europe. One possible explanation for the delay in occupying Europe is the presence of Neanderthals there.
Websites and Resources on Hominins and Human Origins: Smithsonian Human Origins Program humanorigins.si.edu ; Institute of Human Origins iho.asu.edu ; Becoming Human University of Arizona site becominghuman.org ; Talk Origins Index talkorigins.org/origins ; Last updated 2006. Hall of Human Origins American Museum of Natural History amnh.org/exhibitions ; Wikipedia article on Human Evolution Wikipedia ; Evolution of Modern Humans anthro.palomar.edu ; Human Evolution Images evolution-textbook.org; Hominin Species talkorigins.org ; Paleoanthropology Links talkorigins.org ; Britannica Human Evolution britannica.com ; Human Evolution handprint.com ; National Geographic Map of Human Migrations genographic.nationalgeographic.com ; Humin Origins Washington State University wsu.edu/gened/learn-modules ; University of California Museum of Anthropology ucmp.berkeley.edu; BBC The evolution of man" bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life; "Bones, Stones and Genes: The Origin of Modern Humans" (Video lecture series). Howard Hughes Medical Institute.; Human Evolution Timeline ArchaeologyInfo.com ; Walking with Cavemen (BBC) bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life ; PBS Evolution: Humans pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/humans; PBS: Human Evolution Library www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library; Human Evolution: you try it, from PBS pbs.org/wgbh/aso/tryit/evolution; John Hawks' Anthropology Weblog johnhawks.net/ ; New Scientist: Human Evolution newscientist.com/article-topic/human-evolution;
Websites and Resources on Neanderthals: Wikipedia: Neanderthals Wikipedia ; Neanderthals Study Guide thoughtco.com ; Neandertals on Trial, from PBS pbs.org/wgbh/nova; The Neanderthal Museum neanderthal.de/en/ ; The Neanderthal Flute, by Bob Fink greenwych.ca. Websites and Resources on Prehistoric Art: Chauvet Cave Paintings archeologie.culture.fr/chauvet ; Cave of Lascaux archeologie.culture.fr/lascaux/en; Trust for African Rock Art (TARA) africanrockart.org; Bradshaw Foundation bradshawfoundation.com; Australian and Asian Palaeoanthropology, by Peter Brown peterbrown-palaeoanthropology.net. Fossil Sites and Organizations: The Paleoanthropology Society paleoanthro.org; Institute of Human Origins (Don Johanson's organization) iho.asu.edu/; The Leakey Foundation leakeyfoundation.org; The Stone Age Institute stoneageinstitute.org; The Bradshaw Foundation bradshawfoundation.com ; Turkana Basin Institute turkanabasin.org; Koobi Fora Research Project kfrp.com; Maropeng Cradle of Humankind, South Africa maropeng.co.za ; Blombus Cave Project web.archive.org/web; Journals: Journal of Human Evolution journals.elsevier.com/; American Journal of Physical Anthropology onlinelibrary.wiley.com; Evolutionary Anthropology onlinelibrary.wiley.com; Comptes Rendus Palevol journals.elsevier.com/ ; PaleoAnthropology paleoanthro.org.
First Australians Arrived 65,000 Years Ago
Recently discovered archaeological evidence suggests the first Australians arrived at least 65,000 years ago, an amazing fact in itself but one that also challenges the increasingly flawed conventional timeline and models for human evolution and migration. Gemma Tarlach wrote in Discover magazine: “New archaeological evidence supports an idea previously suggested by genetic studies: The first humans arrived in Australia at least 65,000 years ago. This earlier arrival date means humans were present Down Under before its widespread megafauna extinction, an event in which human activity has been debated. [Source: Gemma Tarlach, Discover, July 19, 2017 /<>\]
“The site where the exciting new finds were excavated is not new: Madjedbebe, formerly known as Malakunanja II, has long been considered by some to be the oldest human occupation site in Australia. It was first excavated in the 1970s and ’80s and yielded numerous artifacts such as stone tools and ground ochre that were dated as far back as 60,000 years. But, thanks in part to the strikingly old dates and quibbling over how the artifacts and their contexts — their immediate surroundings — were documented, many conventional timeline backers refused to accept the site’s age. Researchers returned to Madjedbebe in 2012 and again in 2015, and today reported on what they found in more than 20 new small pits dug around the previous excavations. /<>\
“The new haul is impressive: thousands of stone tools and materials used to make them, grinding stones, hearths, ochre “crayons” and animal bones, including from a thylacine jaw fragment that was covered in pigment, plus other pigments with reflective additives — the oldest evidence of pigment processing in Australia (think Stone Age glitter). Also winning the “oldest in Australia” category: evidence that suggests seed grinding, such as plant matter and specific stone tools used to process it. /<>\
“Want more “oldies,” do you? Here ya go: the latest Madjedbebe digs uncovered the oldest edge-ground stone hatchets not just in Australia, but in the world. Of course, with all this talk of oldest this and that, you might be wondering if the dating for the new finds is any more precise and certain than that of previous digs at the site. In a word: yes. When digging down, the team documented not just the layers with artifacts, but the entire stratigraphy of each meter-square excavation mini-site. The deposits were dated using both radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence methods, with additional methods used to date fragmentary charcoal samples from the ancient hearths. And the results were, with confidence, an age of about 65,000 years (with, give or take, at most, 3,000 or 4,000 years in either direction).” /<>\
Evidence of Modern Humans in Australia
Macassan stone arrangement Gemma Tarlach wrote in Discover magazine: “A number of archaeological sites in the Land Down Under have been pushing the arrival date back — first 45,000 years ago, then 50,000 — but the further back the dates were, the more opposition they faced from the conventional camp. After all, if our ancestors hadn’t left Africa before, say, 50,000 years ago, how could they possibly be showing up in Australia before then? Onto this increasingly shaky timeline plops a new date: 65,000 years ago. That’s when, say researchers, modern Homo sapiens left behind evidence that they lived at a site in northern Australia. And to people who still doubt that our species could have been there that long ago, here’s another number: 11,000. That’s how many artifacts and other features of human occupation, such as hearths and burials, were found this time. [Source: Gemma Tarlach, Discover, July 19, 2017 /<>\]
The evidence that the first people arrived in Australia at least by 45,000 years ago is strong. There is some pretty good evidence that they arrived 75,000 years ago or earlier. Some art work has been dated to this time (See Art Below). Even if we take the 50,000 year figure that means that people arrived in Australia more than 25,000 years before people arrived in the Americas and Lascaux caves were painted in France.
Some of the oldest known Aboriginal artifacts, dated between 43,000 and 47,000, are stone tools found at Cranebrook Terrace in Sydney. Many sites have been dated at 35,000 to 40,000 years ago. The tools found at these sites is less sophisticated than those used in Europe, consisting mainly of Neanderthal-style flaked stones and scrapers, There is little evidence the early Australians hunted large marsupial animals. It has been suggested that it likely they didn't develop more sophisticated tools because they didn't need them. There seems to have been plenty of food and there was no rival human species---like Neanderthals in Europe---to prod them to develop new technologies. Just reaching Australia---most likely with seaworthy rafts---is testimony to their skill and cleverness.
DNA research backs up the theory that early man arrived in Australia 65,000 years ago. Once there they evolved in relative isolation, developing genetic characteristics and technology found nowhere else until the arrival of the first European settlers. DNA samples from Aboriginal Australians and Melanesians from New Guinea taken in by University of Cambridge researchers in the mid 2000s indicates they share genetic features linking them and other Eurasians to the exodus from Africa. Toomas Kivisild, one of the author of the Cambridge study, told the Times of London, “The evidence points to the relative insolation after the initial arrival, which would mean any significant developments in skeletal form and tool use were not influenced by outside sources."
Modern Humans in Australia 65,000 Years Ago Challenges Migration Models
Aboriginal Art Gemma Tarlach wrote in Discover magazine: “The discovery is also at odds with the conventional date for our species leaving Africa, and adds fuel to the growing bonfire of what was the evolutionary timeline for Homo sapiens. For decades, the hoary old story of human evolution and migration went something like this: An archaic version of Homo sapiens evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago, and eventually amassed enough random advantageous mutations to get upgraded to version 2.0 (thanks, natural selection!), aka modern Homo sapiens, by about 100,000 years ago. Then, the timeline gets a bit iffy. Many paleoanthropologists had long argued that our species didn’t leave Africa until 60,000 years ago — some put the date even later, around 40,000 years ago. That’s what the archaeological evidence told them, and that’s what they stuck hard and fast to. [Source: Gemma Tarlach, Discover, July 19, 2017 /<>\]
“Since the 1990s, however, a growing number of studies — increasingly driven by genetic evidence — have painted a very different picture of human evolution and migration. Most recently, in 2016 a landmark genomic study of 400 Papua New Guineans suggested that modern Homo sapiens may have arrived in the region 120,000 years ago. And earlier this month, the sequencing of ancient mitochondrial (maternally-inherited) DNA extracted from a Neanderthal femur hinted that African Homo sapiens were interbreeding with European Neanderthals more than 200,000 years ago. /<>\
“Then there was the announcement earlier this year that Homo sapiens — albeit not quite version 2.0 — were in Morocco 300,000 years ago — the best evidence yet that our species is considerably older than we thought. Enter The First Australians Question. As one of the corners of the world furthest-flung from Africa, it makes sense that our species would arrive there fairly late in its relentless march across the planet. Many old-schoolers believed humans first set foot in Australia anywhere from 20,000-40,000 years ago. /<>\
Low Sea Levels and the Modern Human Migration to Australia
It appears that modern humans reached Australia before it reached Europe. About 65,000 years ago, in the middle of a major ice age, glaciers covered nearly 17 million square miles of the Earth, including much of northern Europe and Canada, and sea levels were more than 400 feet lower than what they are today. Much of Europe was covered by ice. In southern Asia and western Oceania, islands and land masses that are now separated by ocean water were connected by land bridges. The shores of Australia, for example, extended out several hundred miles further than they do today.
Ancient aboriginal myths say the continent's original ancestors came from the north and west from across the sea. The first Australians most likely arrived on foot by crossing a land bridge that connected Australia with New Guinea.
Java, Bali, Sumatra and the Philippines were connected to Southeast Asia by land bridges 65,000 years ago but even during the maximum period of glaciation Australia, New Guinea and the western island of Indonesia were isolated by waters of Java Trench and North Australian and Weber basins. Even when the sea levels were at their lowest there was 50 miles of sea between Indonesia-Southeast Asia and Australia-new Guinea.
Early Modern Humans Takes Boats to Australia
The earliest evidence of humans in Australia suggests that some from of boatbuilding had been developed at that time. Although the earliest inhabitants may have walked from New Guinea at some point they would have had to use some sort of boat to get across the Java Trench which created a water barrier between Indonesia and New Guinea.
It seems likely that the first human inhabitants of Australia arrived from Timor, 55 miles from Australia, when Australia's shore stretched further north during the ice age. To reach Australia would have involved traveling in the open sea with no view of land. It seems unlikely that early swam the distance.
Some scientists speculate that early homo sapiens might have crossed the open ocean in rafts made of bamboo logs. "Bamboo makes sea travel wonderful," anthropologist Alan Thorne told National Geographic. "You don't have any waves breaking over you---you just sort of flex over them." He and other scientists have re-created log and bamboo crafts and found them to seaworthy enough to make a 50 mile trip.
Hominids Cross the Wallace Line
Stone flake tools, found near a stegodons (ancient elephant), dated to 840,000 years ago, were found in the Soa Basin on Indonesian island of Flores. The tools are thought to have belonged to Homo Erectus. They only way to get the island is by boat, through sometimes turbulent seas, which implies Homo erectus built seaworthy rafts or some other kind of vessel. This discovery is regarded with caution but may mean that early hominids may have cross the Wallace Line 650,000 years earlier than previously thought.
During several ice ages when sea levels dropped Indonesia was connected to the Asian continent. It is believed that Homo erectus arrived in Indonesia during one of the ice ages.
The Wallace Line is an invisible biological barrier described by and named after the British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace. Running along the water between the Indonesia islands of Bali and Lombok and between Borneo and Sulawesi, it separates the species found in Australia, New Guinea and the eastern islands of Indonesia from those found in western Indonesia, the Philippines and the Southeast Asia.
Because of the Wallace Line Asian animals such as elephants, orangutans and tigers never ventured further east than Bali, and Australian animals such as kangaroos, emus, cassowaries, wallabies and cockatoos never made it to Asia. Animals from both continents are found in some parts of Indonesia.
The first people to cross the Wallace line from Bali to Lombok, Indonesia, scientists speculate, arrived in a kind of paradise free of predators and competitors. Crustaceans and mollusks could be collected from tidal flats and pygmy elephants unafraid of man could be easily hunted. When food supplies ran low, the early inhabitants moved on to the next island, and the next until the finally reached Australia.
The discovery of the Hobbits in Flores is thought to confirm that Homo Erectus crossed the Wallace Line. See Hobbits.
42,000-Year-Old Deep-Sea Fishermen in East Timor Hints How Humans Got to Australia
fish More than 40,000 years ago, prehistoric humans living in what is now East Timor ago possessed the skills necessary to catch deep ocean fish such as tuna. East Timor is one of the closest islands to Australia. Discovery News reported: “In a small cave at the eastern end of East Timor, north of Australia, archaeologist Sue O’Connor from the Australian National University has unearthed the bones of more than 2,800 fish, some of which were caught as long as 42,000 years ago. [Source: Discovery News, November 28, 2011 |^|]
“The find shows that the people living in the region had the sophisticated cognitive skills needed to haul in such a difficult catch, O’Connor says. Her findings appeared in the journal Science. “What the site has shown us is that early modern humans in island Southeast Asia had amazingly advanced maritime skills,” she said. “They were expert at catching the types of fish that would be challenging even today — fish like tuna. It’s a very exciting find.” |^|
“It isn’t clear exactly what techniques the people living in the area at the time used to catch these fish. Tuna can be caught using nets or by trolling hooks on long lines through the water, O’Connor said. “Either way it seems certain that these people were using quite sophisticated technology and watercraft to fish offshore. She said it also demonstrated prehistoric man had high-level maritime skills, and by implication, the technology needed to make the ocean crossings to reach Australia.|^|
“The site where the discoveries were made, known as Jerimalai cave, is a small rock overhang hidden behind in foliage, a few hundred meters from the shore. “When I discovered it in 2005, I didn’t think that Jerimalai would tell us about the very early occupation of Timor,” O’Connor said. “I was quite surprised when I found all these fish bones and turtle bones.” So far, she and her colleagues have only excavated two small test pits at the cave, which contained a number of stone artifacts, bone points, animal remains, shell beads and fish hooks. In just one of those pits, 1 meter square and 2 meters deep, they found 39,000 fish bones. . “I think Jerimalai gives us a window into what maritime coastal occupation was like 40,000 to 50,000 years ago that we don’t really have anywhere else in the world,” said O’Connor. |^|
O’Connor said: “They were expert at catching the types of fish that would be challenging even today - fish like tuna. It's a very exciting find. Simple fish aggregating devices such as tethered logs can also be used to attract them. So they may have been caught using hooks or nets,' she said. 'Either way it seems certain that these people were using quite sophisticated technology and watercraft to fish offshore.” [Source: Simon Tomlinson, Daily Mail, November 25, 2011 ><]
According to the Daily Mail: “She added that the finds may shed light on how Australia's first inhabitants arrived on the continent, with the implication that seaworthy boats would have been used to fish in the deep ocean. “Ee have known for a long time that Australia's ancient ancestors must have been able to travel hundreds of kilometres by sea because they reached Australia by at least 50,000 years ago,' said O'Connor. 'When we look at the watercraft that indigenous Australians used at the time of European contact, however, they are all very simple, like rafts and canoes.”“ ><
Mungo Lady is the name given to a skeleton found in 1968 at Mungo Lake, a dry lake in southeast Australia not far from Adelaide. The bones were originally dated to be 24,000 years old. In 1999, the sediments the bones were found were redated using three different methods, including the measurement of trapped electrons, and they were found to be 62,000 years old. This finding was extremely controversial at the time, considering the oldest known modern human fossils in Europe were 32,000 years old.
In 2003, the Mungo remains were redated again, this time to between 50,000 and 40,000 years , using a technique in which electrons in sand particles found near the fossils were measured. DNA analysis of Mungo Lady indicates she had DNA that linked here to humans that evolved in Australia not Africa.
The Australia anthropologist Alan Thorpe told National Geographic, Mungo Lady “was between 20 and 25 when she died. Her people placed her body on a funeral pyre, and after fire consumed her flesh, they smashed her bones with a club or a digging stick. Then they placed the fragments in a hole at the front of the dune."
A 20,000-year-old skull found in the Willandra Lakes area puzzles scientists because it has more primitive features than older remains found in Australia.
50,000-Year-Old Human Settlements in the Australian Interior
In 2016, a team of archaeologists in Australia announced they had found extensive remains of a sophisticated human community living 50,000 years ago. The remains — which included a range of tools, decorative pigments, and animal bones — were found in a rock shelter in the Flinders Ranges in Australia’s arid southern interior.[Source: Annalee Newitz, ars technica, November 3, 2016 |+|]
Annalee Newitz wrote in ars technica: “Dubbed the Warratyi site, the rock shelter sits above a landscape criss-crossed with deep gorges that would have flowed with water when Paleolithic humans lived here. From extensive excavations conducted last year, the archaeologists estimate that people occupied Warratyi on and off for 40,000 years, finally abandoning the site just 10,000 years ago. |+|
“By analyzing layers of earth in the shelter, the scientists were able to construct a timeline of settlement in the space. They used carbon dating on nuggets of hearth charcoal and eggshells to discover that the shelter was first occupied about 50,000 years ago. They also used a dating technique called optically simulated luminescence (OSL) on buried grains of quartz. This technique determines when those quartz grains last saw sunlight and heat. Both techniques returned similar dates, adding to the researchers' confidence in their findings. |+|
“This makes Warratyi the oldest evidence of human occupation in the arid Australian interior, long believed too hostile for ancient people who had few tools. But these findings make it clear that the ancestors of Australia's indigenous people were, in fact, seasoned explorers who could survive in difficult conditions. The earliest signs of habitation, older than 38,000 years, showed a human culture that was sophisticated for its time. The people of Warratyi had a wide range of tools, ranging from tiny handheld blades to bone awls. They had two colors of pigment, white and red, for use in art, body decoration, and possibly adhesive. They were accomplished hunters and gatherers, using many kinds of blades to butcher animals and cut plant stalks. Thousands of discarded bones and eggshell shards were buried at Warratyi, representing 17 different species. |+|
“Two of those species, D. optatum (a massive creature the size of a rhino) and G. newtoni (an enormous flightless bird) are extinct megafauna. Neither would have naturally found its way into the cave, so their bones and eggshells must have been brought there by humans. This proves that humans hunted, ate, and interacted with Australia's megafauna for a considerable time, over a considerable range, before the beasts died out. These findings also provide solid evidence for what archaeologists have long suspected, which is that humans in Australia had an impact on the lives (and extinctions) of megafauna across the continent. |+|
“What's truly incredible about Warratyi is the story it tells about how humans first populated Australia. We're still certain that the early human explorers island-hopped from southern Asia to Australia in reed boats. But archaeologists have long believed that these people settled the continent's coastal regions for thousands of years before broaching the deadly interior. Now the coastal hypothesis has been disproven. The discovery of the Warratyi rock shelter, write the scientists in Nature, "suggests that, following their arrival in Australia, people dispersed more rapidly across the continent than previously thought. The location of Warratyi could imply a more direct north–south route for pioneering human settlers rather than an exclusive coastal route."
“The scientists add that people lived in the shelter sporadically, never settling down there for a long period of time. "Human occupation was repeated but ephemeral in nature, indicating that Aboriginal people may have used Warratyi both as a refuge at a time when the surrounding lowlands and open plains were too arid to exploit and as a temporary campsite when environmental conditions became more stable regionally."
The authors conclude: “Archaeological sites with evidence of modern human colonization, unique cultural innovation, and interaction with now-extinct megafauna are rare in southern Asia and Australia. Sites preserving 50,000-year-old records of human occupation are rarer still. In addition to these landmark discoveries, Warratyi rock shelter reveals evidence for the development of modern human behavior in Australia and Asia. 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. Ancient people adapted to Australia's harshest environment shortly after arriving on its shores. Warratyi was a resting point for groups who traveled widely, created art, and manufactured tools for everything from cutting to sewing. The Aborginals who settled the Adnyamathanha lands were basically high-tech explorers of the Paleolithic world. [Source: Nature, 2016. DOI: 10.1038/nature20125]
World’s Oldest Known Axe — 49,000 Years Old — Found in Australia
In 2016, scientists claimed that a small fragment found in cave, dated to 49,000 years ago, was part of the world’s oldest ax. Michael Slezak wrote in The Guardian: “It is about the size of a thumbnail and might look like any old piece of rock, but scientists say it is a fragment of the oldest axe ever discovered, created up to 49,000 years ago. Found in Australia, it further undermines ideas that Europe was the birthplace of technology, revealing people developed complex tools not long after they set foot in Australia. [Source: Michael Slezak, The Guardian May 10, 2016 |=|]
“The fragment was excavated in the early 1990s from a cave in the Windjana Gorge national park in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, but only examined recently. New analysis and dating suggests it is a fragment of the cutting edge of an axe that would have had a handle, used between 46,000 and 49,000 years ago. The find pre-dates another axe found in Arnhem Land in Australia dated to 35,000 years ago, and independently invented axes in Japan dated to about 38,000 years ago. |=|
“The fact that the discovery is just a fragment does not matter, according to Peter Hiscock from the University of Sydney, who made the recent discovery. “The great thing about it is it’s really distinctive – it has both polished surfaces coming together on the chip. While you don’t have the axe, you actually have a really good record of what the contact edge looks like.” Although there is no handle, Hiscock says it is not a simple “hand axe” – a sharp tool held directly in the hand – because it has been polished and made of a heavy material, which would not help much for a tool intended to be used by a hand. |=|
“The researchers say the axe was probably invented in Australia, since there is no evidence of similar tools in south-east Asia, from where the migrants came. “This is the earliest evidence of hafted axes [axes with a handle] in the world. Nowhere else in the world do you get axes at this date,” said Sue O’Connor from the the Australian National University, who originally excavated the tool in the 1990s. “In Japan such axes appear about 35,000 years ago. But in most countries in the world they arrive with agriculture 10,000 years ago,” she said. |=|
“Hiscock says the find adds further weight to the idea that humans colonised the world not because they were endowed with some particular skill they could apply everywhere, but because they were creative and could innovate. “We’re looking at people who moved through south-east Asia, where they probably used a lot of bamboo, which is sharp and hard and fantastic for tools. But when they get to Australia, there’s no bamboo so they’re inventing new tools to help them adapt to the exploitation of this new landscape. It’s a fascinating inversion of what European scholars thought in the 19th century. Their presumption was that all the innovations happened in Europe and far-flung places like Australia were simplistic and had little innovation. And it’s turned out that there’s a long history of discovery of axes of progressively earlier ages. This is the place where that sort of technology was invented and it only reached Europe relatively recently.” |=|
Early Modern Human Art in Australia
turtle Another candidate of the world's oldest art are some mysterious cuplike designs and circular coin-like impression made on great orange boulders in a rock formations at the Jinmium site on the coast of Northern Territory in Australia. The impressions have been found on numerous boulders. In almost every case they have the same depth and the same 1.2-inch diameter width. One boulder has 3,500 markings. Scientists theorize the boulders may have marked important food sources or provided directions. Aboriginals in the area believe the markings represent ancestral being that turned to stone.
Richard Fullagar, an anthropologist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, dated the impressions and markings using the latest dating methods to be 75,000 years old, an astonishing date. The famous paleolithic cave paintings in France and Spain, by contrast, are 25,000 years old.
Using the thermolumiscence dating method, David Price of the School of Geosciences at the University of Woolonggong, has dated artifacts and ocher found in a rock shelter at Jinmium at 116,000 years old. Price dated a hand tool to be 176,000 years old---an even more astounding date that is hard to believe and would throw off many theories if it turns out to be true.
Hematite "crayons" dated with a new technique called optically simulated luminescence (which determines when sediments were last exposed to sunlight) are estimated to be between 53,000 and 60,000 years old. Researchers from the Australian National University in Canberra told National Geographic, "It's high-grade hematite. Ancient people ground it into red ocher powder. That means they had an interest in either coloring their bodies for ceremonies, painting clan designs on themselves, or putting art on walls or designs on their boomerangs."
The oldest rock paintings in Australia confirmed by carbon dating are 20,000 years old. An image of pregnancy drawn with ocher on a rock has been dated to be 35,000 years old using other dating methods. Some believe that other rock paintings may be 35,000 or 40,000 years old. A 30,000 year old piece of chiseled ocher was found at Lake Mungo.
An image of a pair birds found in Arnhem Land in northern Australia has been dated as being older than 40,000 years old because that is when the bird species in the image is thought to have gone extinct. Some have asserted it is Australia's oldest painting. The bird in question looks like an emu but is thought to be the megafauna bird genyornis, which has large, thick toes and shorter legs than an emu.
Aboriginal Rock Art: World’s Longest Continuously Practiced Art Tradition
Eric Kjellgren of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The rock art of the Australian Aborigines represents the longest continuously practiced series of artistic traditions anywhere in the world. The site of Ubirr in Arnhem Land, northern Australia, contains one of the most impressive assemblages of Aboriginal rock painting, ranging from the earliest periods to works created within living memory. A favored camping place during the annual wet season, the rock faces at Ubirr have been painted and repainted for millennia. The sequence of rock art at Ubirr and other sites in Arnhem Land has been divided into three periods: Pre-Estuarine (ca. 40,000?–6000 B.C.), Estuarine (ca. 6000 B.C.–500 A.D.), and Fresh Water (ca. 500 A.D.–present). These classifications are based on the changing style and iconography of the images. [Source: Eric Kjellgren Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.org, October 2000 \^/]
“Pre-Estuarine rock art is characterized by a variety of images in red ocher pigments. In historic times, such images were created with brushes made from bark, feathers, or the chewed ends of sticks, and it is likely similar tools were used in the past. Among the most distinctive images are the animated stick figures of the Dynamic Figure tradition, which are often depicted clad in elaborate regalia and shown participating in hunting and other activities. Some contemporary Aboriginals identify these figures as mimi, slender spirits who taught humans to hunt and paint during the Dreaming, or creation period. In present-day Aboriginal belief, many Dynamic Figure images are said to have been painted by mimi rather than humans. Pre-Estuarine rock paintings also include depictions of extinct animals and enigmatic beings that combine the features of humans and wild yams. \^/
“Rock painting had several functions in historic times. Images were created to increase the population of game animals or for use in magic. Depictions of important Dreaming beings are common, as well as secular paintings made for amusement. Although the original significance of Ubirr's prehistoric images is unknown, they likely had similar functions.” \^/
Books: Chaloupka, George Journey in Time: The World's Longest Continuing Art Tradition: The 50,000 Year Story of the Australian Aboriginal Rock Art of Arnhem Land. Chatswood, N.S.W.: Reed, 1993; Layton, Robert Australian Rock Art: A New Synthesis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Animals Found in Australia, 65,000 Years Ago
During the ice ages, when sea levels were 65 meters lower than they are now and the climate was wetter than it is today, Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea were part of a single continent called Meganesia. The geological and biological record bears this out. New Guinea, for example, also has kangaroos. A couple of Indonesian islands may have been part of the 60,000 year old continent: a previously unidentified species of tree kangaroo was discovered on an island near Irian Jaya in 1994. [Source: Tim Flannery, Natural History, June 1993, December 1995]
Prehistoric animals found as recently as 50,000 years ago on the Australian continent included massive carnivorous ghost bats, platypus with large canine teeth, rabbit-size creatures with huge projecting incisors, and nine foot birds that weighed half a ton. Large animals included the rhino-size diprotodon, a wombat-like marsupial plant eater that somewhat resembled a buffalo; giant kangaroo rats, weighing 90 pounds; a Volkswagen-size tortoise; eight-meter-long snakes that were one meter in diameter; and the Genyornis, an ostrich-size flightless bird.
Ancient large carnivores included Megalania, giant carnivorous goannas that weighed as much as a ton and reached lengths of 20-feet; Quinkana, a 10-foot-long, 500 pound land crocodiles that seemed to able to survive without water, and may have jumped from trees onto their prey. The womambi was large python-like snake that weighed over 100 pounds and had a 12-inch girth. It had an enormous head filled with hundreds of tiny teeth. It lived in a number of different environments including rocks and oases and was found much further south than large snakes today. Marsupial lions as large as their African counterparts may have dragged captured kangaroos into a tree just as leopards do with their prey today.
Ancient animals (and the approximate time they went extinct): 1) Polrchestes, carnivorous kangaroos (30,000 years ago); 2) genyornis (25,000 years ago); 3) diprotodon (20,000 years ago); 4) megalonia prisca and giant goanna (12,000 years ago); 5) Procoptadon, the giant kangaroo (10,000 years ago); 6) thylacoleo, marsupial lion, (9,000 years ago); 7) giant echidna (9,000 years ago).
End of Large Ice Age Animals in Australia
Some of these creatures were probably wiped out by early Aboriginals just as giant sloths and wooly mammoths were probably exterminated by early American Indians. Some may have been hunted to extinction. A more likely explanation is they were wiped by huge man-made brush fires that changed the ecology of their habitats. [Source: Tim Flannery, Natural History, June 1993, December 1995]
According to a report in Science, "All marsupials exceeding 100 kilograms, or 19 species, and 22 of 38 species between 10 and 100 kilograms became extinct, along with three large reptiles and the ostrich-size Genyornis...We suspect the systematic burning by the earliest colonizers — used to secure food, promote new vegetation growth, to signal other groups of people and for other purposes — differed from the natural fire cycle, that key ecosystems were pushed past a threshold from which they could not recover." Scientist have found no evidence that the extinctions were related to climate changes. They also don’t think the animals were overhunted because there is little evidence that early people ate the large animals.
Gemma Tarlach wrote in Discover magazine: “Strong archaeological evidence of Homo sapiens being in Australia by 65,000 years ago doesn’t just chip away at the pile of rubble that is 20th century thinking about our evolution and global dispersal. Today’s study also bolsters the case for humans being involved in that continent’s megafauna collapse. [Source: Gemma Tarlach, Discover, July 19, 2017 /<>\]
“As in the debate over who or what to blame for North America’s megafauna extinctions following the end of the last Ice Age, researchers have long been divided over whether climate change or hungry humans were responsible for offing many of Australia’s wonderfully weird (and big) animals during an earlier period. Researchers arguing that humans played a significant role in the megafauna extinctions in Australia were always hobbled by a lack of archaeological evidence that proved our species was even around at the right time. Thanks to today’s study, which appears in Nature, the hobbles are off.” /<>\
DNA Evidence Suggests Australian Aborigines Were First Explorers
AFP reported in 2011, “An international team of scientists has sequenced the genome of an Australian Aboriginal man and reported that his ancestors likely explored the earth earlier than those of modern Asians. The findings shed new light on the waves of migration by humans out of Africa, and suggest that Aboriginals were descended from rare and brave adventurers that moved on 24,000 years earlier than the rest. [Source: AFP, September 27, 2011]
“Aboriginal Australians descend from the first human explorers," said lead author Eske Willerslev from the University of Copenhagen. “While the ancestors of Europeans and Asians were sitting somewhere in Africa or the Middle East, yet to explore their world further, the ancestors of Aboriginal Australians spread rapidly; the first modern humans traversing unknown territory in Asia and finally crossing the sea into Australia.
“It was a truly amazing journey that must have demanded exceptional survival skills and bravery." The findings were based on the analysis of a 100-year-old lock of hair donated to a British anthropologist by an Aboriginal man from the Goldfields region of Western Australia. Researchers sequenced the DNA and found “no genetic input from modern European Australians," which they believe shows that Aborigines moved through Asia and into Australia in a first and separate wave.
The evidence suggests “the ancestors of the Aboriginal man separated from the ancestors of other human populations some 64,000 to 75,000 years ago... before finally reaching Australia about 50,000 years ago”, said the study. The genetic history of Australians has been difficult to pin down because scientists have lacked access to DNA from fossilised bones such as those found from Neanderthals and Denisovans in cold caves in Europe and Russia, where DNA can be preserved.
Indigenous Australians: World’s Oldest Civilization, DNA Study Says
A population analysis of Indigenous Australians and Papuans published in Nature in 2016 shows they can trace their origins back to the very first arrivals in their homelands around 50,000 years ago. In genetic terms, based on the first extensive study of their DNA, this makes them the most ancient continuous civilisation on Earth. Clues left in their genes allowed scientists to trace origins and amazing journeys to Australia and New Guinea. [Source: Hannah Devlin, The Guardian, September 21, 2016 |=|]
Scientists sifted through the DNA of modern populations in Australia and Papua New Guinea and found their ancestors were probably the first humans to cross an ocean along with evidence of prehistoric interbreeding with an unknown hominin. Prof Eske Willerslev, an evolutionary geneticist who led the work at the University of Copenhagen, told The Guardian: “This story has been missing for a long time in science. Now we know their relatives are the guys who were the first real human explorers. Our ancestors were sitting being kind of scared of the world while they set out on this exceptional journey across Asia and across the sea.” |=|
Hannah Devlin wrote in The Guardian: “Willerslev’s findings, based on a new population analysis of 83 Indigenous Australians and 25 Papuans, shows that these groups can trace their origins back to the very first arrivals on the continent about 50,000 years ago and that they remained almost entirely isolated until around 4,000 years ago. “They are probably the oldest group in the world that you can link to one particular place,” said Willerslev. En route to Australia, early humans would have encountered a motley assortment of other roving hominin species, including an unknown human relative who has now been shown to have contributed around 4 percent to the Indigenous Australian genome. Previously, scientists have discovered that prehistoric couplings have left all non-Africans today carrying 1-6 percent of Neanderthal DNA. Willerslev said the latest findings added to the view that Neanderthals and other now extinct hominins, traditionally portrayed as low-browed prehistoric thugs, were “in reality not particularly different” from our own ancestors. |=|
“Willerslev’s study also resolves the apparent discrepancy between genetic findings implying that Indigenous populations have been in Australia for tens of thousands of years and the fact that the languages spoken by these populations are only around 4,000 years old. “You see a movement of people spreading across the continent and leaving signatures across the continent,” said Willerslev. “That is the time that this new language has spread. It’s a tiny genetic signature. It’s almost like two guys entering a village and saying ‘guys, now we have to speak another language and use another stone tool and they have a little bit of sex in that village and then they disappear again.” Aubrey Lynch, an Indigenous elder from the Goldfields area, said: “This study confirms our beliefs that we have ancient connections to our lands and have been here far longer than anyone else.” |=|
Migration from Africa to Asia to Australia
The fact that some of earliest evidence of modern humans outside of Africa and the Middle East is in Australia suggests that the early man followed a coastal route through South Asia and Southeast Asia to Australia. It is believed that the migration was not a caravan-like journey but rather one in which some huts were set up on the beach and the migrants lived there for a while moving and then moved to a new location further to the east every couple of years. Traces of such a migration if it took place were covered in water and sediments when sea levels rose at the end of the Ice Age.
DNA studies of people living today indicate that modern humans migrated from Eastern Africa to the Middle East, then Southern and Southeast Asia, then New Guinea and Australia, followed by Europe and Central Asia. Perhaps they didn't enter Europe because that region was dominated by Neanderthals. According to research by geneticist at the University of Cambridge in the mid 2000s all modern humans descend from a small number of Africans that left Africa between 55,000 and 60,000 years ago. Another less reliable DNA study determined that an intrepid group of 500 hominids marched out of Africa about 140,000 years ago and they are the ancestors to all modern people today. [Source: Guy Gugliotta, Smithsonian magazine, July 2008]
Saioa López, Lucy van Dorp and Garrett Hellenthal of University College London wrote: “In contrast, mtDNA studies have traditionally favored a Southern route across the Bab el Mandeb strait at the mouth of the Red Sea. From there, modern humans are thought to have spread rapidly into regions of Southeast Asia and Oceania. For example, two studies have concluded that individuals assigned to haplogroup L3 migrated out of the continent via the Horn of Africa. Furthermore, Fernandes et al. analyzed three minor West-Eurasian haplogroups and found a relic distribution of these minor haplogroups suggestive of ancestry within the Arabian cradle, as expected under a Southern route.[Source: Saioa López, Lucy van Dorp and Garrett Hellenthal of University College London, “Human Dispersal Out of Africa: A Lasting Debate,” Evolutionary Bioinformatics, April 21, 2016 *~*]
“From an archeological perspective, evidence indicative of maritime exploitation is extremely limited. The discovery of artifacts from the Abdur Reef Limestone in the Red Sea and archeological sites in the Gulf Basin that indicate long-standing human occupation earlier than 100, 000 years ago may offer some evidence; however, whether these represent the activities of the ancestors of modern-day human groups is still an open question. Furthermore, Boivin et al caution that while coastal regions may have been important, a coastal-focused dispersal would still have been problematic and not necessarily conducive to rapid out of Africa dispersal.” *~*
Reaching India was an important milestone on the way to Australia. Tony Joseph wrote in The Hindu: “When did our species, Homo sapiens, first set foot in India? There are two competing versions of the answer: let’s call them the ‘early version’ and the ‘late version’. The ‘early version’ says they arrived 74,000 to 120,000 years ago from Africa through the Arabian peninsula with Middle Stone Age tools such as scrapers and points that helped them hunt their prey, gather food, or make clothes. The ‘late version’ says they arrived much later, around 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, with upgraded technology such as microlithic (tiny stone) tools that might have been used to give sharp tips to arrows and spears. A geological event separates the two versions: the supervolcanic eruption at Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia, about 74,000 years ago, dumped tonnes of ash all over South-east Asia and South Asia, causing much stress to all life in the region. The ‘early version’ says migrants reached India before Toba; the ‘late version’ says the opposite.” [Source: Tony Joseph, The Hindu, September 5, 2017 |^^|]
Reaching Indonesia was another important milestone on the way to Australia. Bruce Bower wrote in Science News: “Humans inhabited rainforests on the Indonesian island of Sumatra between 73,000 and 63,000 years ago — shortly before a massive eruption of the island’s Mount Toba volcano covered South Asia in ash, researchers say. Two teeth previously unearthed in Sumatra’s Lida Ajer cave and assigned to the human genus, Homo, display features typical of Homo sapiens, report geoscientist Kira Westaway of Macquarie University in Sydney and her colleagues. By dating Lida Ajer sediment and formations, the scientists came up with age estimates for the human teeth and associated fossils of various rainforest animals excavated in the late 1800s, including orangutans. [Source: Bruce Bower, Science News, August 9, 2017 <<<]
Oldest High-Altitude Settlements Discovered in Papua New Guinea
Earliest evidence modern humans in of New Guinea — 40,000 years before present — Indonesian Side of New Guinea — Archaeological evidence shows that 40,000 years ago, some of the first farmers came to New Guinea from the South-East Asian Peninsula.
Buka Island, New Guinea — 28,000 years before present — Kilu Cave — Flaked stone, bone, and shell artifacts [Source: Wikipedia]
In 2010, AFP reported: “The world's oldest known high-altitude human settlements, dating back up to 49,000 years, have been found sealed in volcanic ash in Papua New Guinea mountains, archaeologists said. Researchers have unearthed the remains of about six camps, including fragments of stone tools and food, in an area near the town of Kokoda, said an archaeologist on the team, Andrew Fairbairn. "What we've got there are basically a series of campsites, that's what they look like anyway. The remains of fires, stone tools, that kind of thing, on ridgetops," the University of Queensland academic told AFP. "It's not like a village or anything like that, they are these campsite areas that have been repeatedly used."[Source: AFP, October 1, 2010 =]
“Fairbairn said the settlements are at about 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) and believed to be the oldest evidence of our human ancestors, Homo sapiens, inhabiting a high-altitude environment. "For Homo sapiens, this is the earliest for us, for modern humans," he said. "The nearest after this is round about 30,000 years ago in Tibet, and there's some in the Ethiopian highlands at around about the same type of age." =
“Fairbairn said he had been shocked to discover the age of the finds, using radio carbon dating, because this suggested humans had been living in the cold, wet and inhospitable highlands at the height of the last Ice Age. "We didn't expect to find anything of that early age," he said. The findings, published in the journal Science, suggest that the prehistoric highlanders of Papua New Guinea's Ivane Valley in the Owen Stanley Range Mountain made stone tools, hunted small animals and ate yams and nuts. =
“But why they chose to dwell in the harsh conditions of the highlands, where temperatures would have dipped below freezing, rather than remain in the warmer coastal areas, remains a mystery. "Papua New Guinea's mountains have long held surprises for the scientific community and here is another one -- maybe they were the home of Homo sapiens' earliest mountaineers," Fairbairn said.” =
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ancientfoods.wordpress.com ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018