The timing of the first arrival of humans in Australia has been studied and debated for decades. Now, researchers have found evidence that suggests the ancestors of Aboriginal Australians landed in the northern part of Australia at least 65,000 years ago.
The finding, which was published Wednesday in the journal Nature, pushes back the timing of when people first came to the continent by about 5,000 to 18,000 years. It also suggests that humans coexisted with colossal Australian animals like giant wombats and wallabies long before the megafauna went extinct.
“This is the earliest reliable date for human occupation in Australia,” Peter Hiscock, an archaeologist at the University of Sydney who was not involved in the study, said in an email. “This is indeed a marvelous step forward in our exploration of the human past in Australia.”
Previous archaeological digs and dating had suggested people migrated to Australia between 47,000 and 60,000 years ago. But a new excavation at an aboriginal rock shelter called Madjedbebe revealed human relics that dated back 65,000 years.
“We were gobsmacked by the richness of material that we were finding at the site: fireplaces intact, a ring of grind stones around it, and there were human burials in their graves,” said Chris Clarkson, an archaeologist from the University of Queensland in Australia and lead author of the study. “No one dreamed of a site so rich and so old in Australia.”