November 3, 2016

The oldest evidence of human settlement in arid Australia has been discovered.

New research published in Nature has revealed that Australia’s interior was settled 49,000 years ago, 10,000 years earlier than first thought.

The findings were made after a series of excavations at the Warratyi Rock Shelter in the Flinders Ranges, led by archaeologist Giles Hamm, an Honorary Fellow of the South Australian Museum and La Trobe University PhD candidate.

The excavations uncovered stone tools, red ochre and bone fragments. Importantly, these artefacts also point to the earliest known development of bone and stone axe tools, as well as the use of red ochre as a pigment.

The artefacts from the excavations also included megafauna bones side-by-side with human tools. Bone fragments from the giant wombat-like Diprotodon as well as eggs from an ancient bird were found. The discovery points to the co-existence of both humans and megafauna. This evidence will prove pivotal to the theory of megafauna extinction being caused by either climate change or humans.

The discovery at Warrayti Rock Shelter marks one of the most important prehistoric sites in Australia. The research was in collaboration with the Adnyamathanha people as well as researchers from the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and the University of Queensland.

Cover image of Warratyi Rock Shelter by Giles Hamm