20120205-australia Macassan_stone_arrangement.jpg
Macassan stone arrangement
Surprisingly some of the earliest evidence of modern humans outside of Africa and the Middle East is not in Asia or Europe but in Australia. The earliest evidence of modern humans in Australia comes from Madjedbebe, a sandstone rock shelter in Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory of Australia. Artifacts there have been dated to be 50,000- 65,000 years old. The oldest human skeletal remains are the 40,000-year-old Lake Mungo remains in New South Wales. Humans appear to have been widely dispersed in Australia at very early dates. Human ornaments discovered at Devil's Lair in Western Australia have been dated to 48,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of modern humans in Tasmania comes from Jordan River Levee. Optically stimulated luminescence results from the site suggest people were ca. 41,000 years ago. Tasmania was connected to Australia by a land bridge. Rising sea level cut off Tasmania around 6000 B.C.. [Source: Wikipedia]

Physical archaeological remains of human activity in Australia include stone tools, rock art and ochre, shell middens, charcoal deposits and human skeletal remains. The oldest human fossil remains found in Australia date to around 40,000 years ago — 10,000 to 20,000 years younger than the oldest human artifacts — after the earliest archaeological evidence of human occupation. Nothing is known about what the first humans that entered Australia look like but — based on skeletal remains that Aboriginal people living in Australia between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago had much larger bodies and more robust skeletons than they do today and showed a wide range of physical variation. [Source: Fran Dorey, Australian Museum, September 12, 2021]

When the first people arrived Australia was much wetter than it is now. First arrivals found vast mud flats with mollusks that never been harvested by humans, seas that had never been fished and species that had never faced an predators. These animals were probably very easy to hunt because they had never faced predators before. The oldest known grinding stones for plants appeared around 30,000 years ago. The might have been created because the easy animals to hunt for meat were extinct. [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 2009"]

Archeological Evidence of Modern Humans in Australia

According to the Australian Museum: Over the last few decades, a significant number of archaeological sites dated at more than 30,000 years old have been discovered. By this time all of Australia, including the arid centre and Tasmania, was occupied. The drowning of many coastal sites by rising sea levels has destroyed what would have been the earliest occupation sites.

Archaeological artifacts of things still used today include fishing traps and weirs and stone-base huts. Prehistoric fireplaces contain remains of meals and cooking activities. Such evidence indicates that lifestyle practices varied across Australia and differed depending on climate, environment and the natural resources available. Shell middens (waste dumps of mollusk shells, animal bone and other things) provide clues ro what people ate and can also be radiocarbon dated to establish the age of a site. [Source: Fran Dorey, Australian Museum, September 12, 2021]

Gemma Tarlach wrote in Discover magazine: “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. [Source: Gemma Tarlach, Discover, July 19, 2017]

Some of the oldest known Aboriginal artifacts, dated between 43,000 and 47,000, are stone tools found at Cranebrook Terrace in Sydney. Evidence of human activity at Keilor, an archaeology site in a suburb of Melbourne dates back nearly 40,000 years. Stone flakes and charcoal deposits have been found in the lowest archaeological levels. One of the key remains from this site was that of a 12,000 year old skull discovered in 1940. It is one of the earlier prehistoric Aboriginal remains found in Australia.

Madjedbebe — the Oldest Known Human Site in Australia

Gemma Tarlach wrote in Discover magazine: “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 in 2017 reported on what they found in more than 20 new small pits dug around the previous excavations. [Source: Gemma Tarlach, Discover, July 19, 2017]

“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).” /\

Lake Mungo and Mungo Man

Mungo Man

The oldest human remains in Australia were found at Lake Mungo in south-west New South Wales, part of the Willandra Lakes system. This site has been occupied by Aboriginal people from at least 47,000 years ago to the present. This age range is supported by numerous geochronological ageing techniques including Radiocarbon (C14) determinations, Optically Stimulated Thermoluminesence (OSL) and Thermoluminesence (TL). [Source: Fran Dorey, Australian Museum, September 12, 2021]

The Lake Mungo area, in southeast Australia not far from Adelaide, was once filled with lakes but they have been mostly dry for the last 18,000 years and Lake Mungo is now a dry lakebed. In the past, lower evaporation and higher runoff from the Great Dividing Range allowed the lakes to fill, supporting plentiful freshwater resources such as fish and shellfish, and making the lakes a valuable source of food for the people that occupied the area. The lakes sometimes fill today after heavy rain. Mungo Lake lies in Mungo National Park in Willandra Lakes area (250 kilometers, 400 miles, west of Sydney), which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mungo Man, also known as 'Lake Mungo 3’ or (WLH 3) was found eroding out of a sand dune. He was laid out on his back for burial and covered in red ochre before being buried in the beach sands that bordered the lake. There has been some debate over the age of this burial. Dates ranging from 26,000 to 60,000 years ago have been have been obtained using different dating methods, An age around 42,000 years old is the most widely accepted. 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.

DNA analysis of Mungo human remains appeared to indicate that they evolved in Australia not Africa. According to the Australian museum: In 2001, Australian scientists claimed that they had extracted mitochondrial DNA from ‘Mungo Man’ and nine other ancient Australians. They concluded that the genes of the modern-looking ‘Mungo Man’ were different from modern humans, proving that not all Homo sapiens have the same recent ancestor as stated in the ‘Out of Africa’ theory. These claims are controversial and could not be replicated in further studies in 2016 (PNAS 2016), and the only DNA that could be recovered from Mungo Man was European and certainly a contaminant.Ancient DNA is easily contaminated and rarely survives for 30,000 years in conditions like those found in Australia. A complete mitochondrial genome from WLH 4, found several kilometres from Mungo Man, has been reconstructed. This individual was probably buried after the lakes had dried up in the Holocene (less than 10,000 years ago) and contains DNA that falls within the modern human range.

Mungo Lady

Mungo Lady is the name given to a skeleton found in 1968 at Mungo Lake that has been firmly dated to be at least 42,000 years old. Also known as Mungo Woman and ‘Lake Mungo 1’ (WLH 1), she was laid to rest in the most reliably dated human burial in Australia and is the earliest ritually cremated individual found anywhere in the world. The cremation process shrunk her bones, making the skeleton of this originally small-bodied woman even smaller. Dr Alan Thorne reconstructed the skull from over 300 fragments. [Source: Fran Dorey, Australian Museum, September 12, 2021]

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.

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." Covered in red ocher, the skeleton is presented as one of the first known use of pigments for religious or artistic purposes.

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. |+|

20120205-australia Rock-painting-wallaby.jpg
“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]

Tools of the First Australians

Stone tools in Australia, as in other parts of the world, changed and developed through time. According to the Australian Museum Some early types, such as wasted blades, core tools, large flake scrapers and split pebble choppers continue to be made and used to today. About 6000 years ago, new and specialised tools such as points, backed blades and thumbnail scrapers became common. Significant variation between the tool kits of different regions also appeared. Prototypes for this technology appeared earlier in Asia, suggesting this innovation was introduced into Australia. [Source: Fran Dorey, Australian Museum, September 12, 2021]

The ground stone technique produces tools with a more durable and even edge, although not as sharp as a chipped tool. The oldest ground stone tools appear in Australia about 10,000 years before they appear in Europe, suggesting that early Australians were more technologically advanced in some of their tool manufacturing techniques than was traditionally thought.

In 2008, a large cache of stone tools, including chert knives, estimated to be up to 35,000 years old was discovered on the site of one of Australia’s largest iron ore mines, sparking a debate about which was more important — the archaeological site’s preservation or the mine. Reuters reported: Archaeologists uncovered the tools on the site of the US$920 million Hope Downs iron ore mine, about 310 kilometres (192 miles) south of Port Hedland, in western Australia’s ore-rich Pilbara region. “We have always known this is an important part of our history, that our ancestors lived here,” Slim Parker, a senior elder of the local Martidja Banyjima people, told Australia’s Fairfax newspapers. “Our stories and songs tells us this. It is a good feeling to know archaeologists have proved what we say is true. It makes us feel strong. Now we want this place preserved. It is part of our heritage and our culture,” Parker said.

Archaeologist consultant Neale Draper said the Hope Downs site could prove to be one of Australia’s most significant historical finds, and could yield more material up to 40,000 years old. The stone tools, mostly makeshift blades and cutting implements, were found in a rock overhang. Carbon dating tests indicated some were much older than charcoal remnants from ancient campfires. “The oldest-dated stone artifacts are a core, and associated flakes that have a radiocarbon age estimate of 35,000 years,” U.S. archaeologist W. Boone Law said, referring to an implement resembling a stone spike. [Source: Rob Taylor, Reuters, March 7, 2008]

World’s Oldest Known Axe — 49,000 Years Old — Found in Australia

oldest ax

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

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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. These dates are debated or have been debunked.

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.

Ancient Humans in Australia Ate the Eggs of ‘Demon Ducks of Doom’

An analysis of proteins found in the eggshells found in cooking pits used by humans in Australia around 50,000 years ago appears to indicate that these people ate the eggs of Genyornis newtoni, the last living species of a group of birds known as ‘Demon Ducks of Doom.’ The egg of this bird weighs about 1.5 kilograms, more than 20 times the weight of an average chicken egg. Beatrice Demarchi from the Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology at the University of Turin, and colleagues, completed the protein analysis which resulted in the species identification. Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Source: Cassidy Ward, SYFY, June 5, 2022,]

SYFY reported: “Genyornis was two meters tall and 200 kilos. We don’t know exactly what it would have looked like because there are few skeletal remains available. It was certainly a flightless bird with some characteristics shared with ostriches, like the big chest and small wings, but it would have looked more like a big goose or duck,” Demarchi told SYFY WIRE.

The evidence that humans were eating these large eggs comes from burnt eggshells found among the remains of ancient cultures. Scientists studying these sites find two different types of eggshells, one of which comes from emus and another which was unknown. Looking at the archaeological record, we find that the eggshells start being burned right around the same time people first arrived in Australia. This supports the notion that they were cooking and eating them as they had done with other large, flightless birds in Africa, India, and Eurasia.

The proteins suggest that the eggshells came from a bird more closely related to modern ducks and geese, which supports the Genyornis hypothesis. Sadly, even before humans showed up in Australia, most of the demon ducks had died out and the extra pressure of our presence in the area proved too much for Genyornis to handle. They died out roughly 50,000 years ago, which is about the time the first people arrived.

Animals Found in Australia, 65,000 Years Ago

Diprotodon optatum

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.”

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.” |=|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Australian Museum, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2023

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