Thursday

Researchers are now systematically surveying the surrounding area to find additional sites, to see if even older evidence can be found.

 The findings on about 11,000 artefacts from Kakadu national park, published on Thursday in the journal Nature, prove Indigenous people have been in Australia for far longer than the much-contested estimates of between 47,000 and 60,000 years, the researchers said. Some of the artefacts were potentially as old as 80,000 years.

The significant trove of thousands of artefacts was buried in 2.6 metres of sand and sediment on the western edge of the Arnhem Land plateau. The site at Madjedbebe is on the traditional lands of the Mirarr people, but currently within the confines of the Jabiluka uranium mining lease, and surrounded by the 20,000 hectares of the heritage-listed Kakadu.

Much of the success of the five-year-long project is credited to a unique and benchmark-setting agreement between the researchers and the Mirarr, who retained total control over the dig and the artefacts.

“We’d like to tell people we were here long enough – tell all the Balanda [non-Indigenous people] about the stories, that people were here a long time,” Mirarr traditional owner May Nango said.

More than 10,000 artefacts were uncovered in the “zone of first occupation”, including ochre and reflective paint substances, as well as the oldest unbroken ground-edge stone axes in the world, by about 20,000 years, and the oldest known seed-grinding tools in Australia.


In the deepest levels of sediment, some artefacts were estimated to be about 80,000 years old – or at least 95% likely to be older than 70,000, the report noted.

“It’s special because it has a lot of sacred sites, and back in the old days our old people used to walk over here looking for bush tucker. They used the rocks and axes.”
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