'Atlantis of the south': earliest evidence of Aboriginal life found in WA cave
Evidence from a remote cave in Western Australia confirms humans have occupied Australia for around 50,000 years - according to new research.
Prior to the finding of cultural materials at the cave on Barrow Island, it was believed human occupation dated back to 47,000 years.
But research from the University of Western Australia provides unique evidence of the early and successful adaptation of Aboriginal people to both coastal and desert landscapes and the earliest evidence of coastal living in the country.
Lead archaeologist Peter Veth likened the cave, found at Barrow Island, a large limestone island located 60 kilometres off the Pilbara coast of Western Australia, as the 'Atlantis of the south'.
"The cave provided rich records of ancient artefacts, gathering and hunting of marine and arid animals, and environmental signatures which show the use of a now-drowned coastal desert landscape," he said.
"[It] was used predominantly as a hunting shelter between about 50,000 and 30,000 years ago, before becoming a residential base for family groups about 10,000 years ago."
Professor Veth said the cave was abandoned about 7,000 years ago when rising sea levels cut it off from the mainland.
"Remarkably the early colonists of the now-submerged North West Shelf did not turn their back on the sea or remain coastally tethered but rapidly adapted to the new marsupial animals and arid zone plants of the extensive maritime deserts of North West Australia," he said.
The research, published in Quaternary Science Reviews, was led by UWA under the Barrow Island Archaeology Project funded by the Australian Research Council, and included researchers from The University of Queensland, James Cook University, The University of Waikato, The University of Adelaide, Sacramento State University, Curtin University, Oxford University and the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife.
The research was undertaken with the participation and support of the Buurabalayji Thalanyji Aboriginal Corporation and Kuruma Marthudunera Aboriginal Corporation and was funded by the Australian Research Council as a Discovery Project.