A quick bathroom break led to a stunning discovery in Australia’s Flinders Ranges. An archaeologist and an Adnyamathanha aboriginal elder were surveying gorges in the area at the time. One man went off to find some privacy and instead found evidence overturning all previous hypotheses of when humans colonized Australia and how they interacted with animals.
The two men noticed a rock shelter with a blackened roof about 20 meters above a nearby creek bed. “We knew that was obviously an indication of people firing insider the shelter,” said Giles Hamm, the archaeologist and a doctoral student at La Trobe University.
“We only thought it might have been five or six thousand years old because there’s no way that a meter-deep deposit would go back so far,” Hamm continued. But the group continued excavating and soon came across emu shells and other long-extinct species. That was “the first inkling we knew it was old,” said Hamm. “Then it just kept getting older.”
Using carbon dating on chunks of hearth charcoal and eggshells, the scientists discovered that the shelter was first used by humans about 50,000 years ago. The findings were published in Nature last week.
While researchers had previously believed that humans first came to Australia about 50,000 years ago, the timing of the settling of the arid interior of Australia had been put at closer to 40,000 years ago. This research “shows that people are moving very quickly around the continent and in the interior part of the continent. If people are coming in at 50,000 [years ago], it means that people are moving in a whole range