50,000-year-old human settlements in Australian interior
November 2, 2016 11:57 AM   Subscribe

"In a stunning discovery, a team of archaeologists in Australia has found extensive remains of a sophisticated human community living 50,000 years ago. The remains were found in a rock shelter in the continent's arid southern interior. Packed with a range of tools, decorative pigments, and animal bones, the shelter is a wide, roomy space located in the Flinders Ranges, which are the ancestral lands of the Adnyamathanha. The find overturns previous hypotheses of how humans colonized Australia, and it also proves that they interacted with now-extinct megafauna that ranged across the continent."
posted by Celsius1414 (25 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
 


This is awesome! Every time we think we've got early human migration figured out, we uncover a new wrinkle that nobody had considered before.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:04 PM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


...and it also proves that they interacted with ate all of the now-extinct megafauna that ranged across the continent.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:07 PM on November 2, 2016 [8 favorites]


This is so cool ahhhh!!!!!
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:31 PM on November 2, 2016


It pleases me no end that the past is turning out to be so mutable.
posted by jamjam at 12:31 PM on November 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


The article says that we know that humans first came to Australia in reed boats, but one of the images seems to show Australia connecting to New Guinea and other islands during the last ice age. So how do we actually know how the first humans got there?
posted by KGMoney at 1:06 PM on November 2, 2016


This is amazing, and I have a question.
This makes Warratyi the oldest evidence of human occupation in the arid Australian interior, long believed too hostile for ancient people who had few tools. But these findings make it clear that the ancestors of Australia's indigenous people were, in fact, seasoned explorers who could survive in difficult conditions.
How much do we know about the climate 50,000 years ago? Was it as dry then as it is now?
posted by rtha at 1:13 PM on November 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is cool.
posted by My Dad at 1:20 PM on November 2, 2016


The Flinders Ranges are in South Australia, I believe... far to the south of central Australia. The Flinders Ranges are themselves interesting because they are some of the oldest exposed rock on the planet.
posted by My Dad at 1:21 PM on November 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


I saw that too, rtha, but then a caption under a photo of the rock shelter says that when it was occupied it would have overlooked a winding stream.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:28 PM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sweet Jesus, I googled the megafauna mentioned in the article. G. Newtoni (bird thing) and D.Optatum (6000 lbs marsupial). Imagine encountering those during your daily commute.
posted by ouke at 1:46 PM on November 2, 2016 [8 favorites]


So these guys were contemporary with Neanderthals and Denisovans, and on the border with Homo floresiensis. The story gets more complicated every year. This is amazing.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:35 PM on November 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


Sweet Jesus, I googled the megafauna mentioned in the article. G. Newtoni (bird thing) and D.Optatum (6000 lbs marsupial). Imagine encountering those during your daily commute.

Wikimedia has a photograph of such a commute
posted by beerperson at 2:56 PM on November 2, 2016 [10 favorites]


KGMoney: The article says that we know that humans first came to Australia in reed boats, but one of the images seems to show Australia connecting to New Guinea and other islands during the last ice age. So how do we actually know how the first humans got there?

Australian Museum has an article on the facts and theories about the spread of people to Australia that states:
There has always been an ocean separating Asia and Australia. At times this distance was reduced but the earliest travellers still had to navigate across large stretches of water.

For much of its history Australia was joined to New Guinea, forming a landmass called Sahul. These countries were finally separated by rising sea levels about 8,000 years ago. Genetic evidence supports the close ties between these two countries – the Indigenous peoples from these regions are more closely related to each other than to anyone else in the world, suggesting a recent common ancestry.
It also discusses possibilities of Homo erectus co-existing in certain areas with Homo sapiens.


rtha: How much do we know about the climate 50,000 years ago? Was it as dry then as it is now?

Here's a a page from Geoscience Australia, an Australian Government department, on Australian landforms and their history. And here's the Wikipedia page on paleoclimatology, which identifies and discusses the ways that climate conditions in the past can be determined.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:56 PM on November 2, 2016 [10 favorites]


Awesome! And good on ArsTechnica for showing us the actual stratigraphic profiles drawn by the researchers (otherwise behind Nature's paywall). Cave archaeologists are a special breed... those micro-strats are tough to make sense of.

The 14C dates line up the way they should; oldest on the bottom, more recent as you go up the profile. I'd like to read more about the methods; my understanding is that 14C starts to get dicey when you get that far back.

How much do we know about the climate 50,000 years ago? Was it as dry then as it is now?

I'm more curious about the apparent end of the cave's occupation circa 25,000 years ago. Perhaps something to do with shifting freshwater sources during the late Pleistocene?
posted by cosmologinaut at 5:48 PM on November 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


We visited Chaco Canyon in New Mexico a few years ago, and it's only (comparatively speaking) about a thousand years old and what we don't know about how they lived and what the climate was like is astounding. That we have as much information as we do about this Australian site is wow.
posted by rtha at 6:08 PM on November 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is so exciting! It makes you wonder what other things are yet to be found. Australia's interior is very thinly settled; there might be anything out there. Mind you, Australasia and Asia are separated by the Wallace Line, an intercontinental rift that's been underwater for tens of millions of years. We're unlikely to find traces of any hominid that lacked the ability to sail or canoe.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:32 PM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


I like how they specify "sophisticated human community" to avoid confusion with all the lizard people communities in the area.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:28 PM on November 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


I have spent some time on a large conservation reserve along the Murray River in northern Victoria, and there is evidence of occupation there going back 25,000 years. Most of it has barely been studied or uncovered, although there is a long-term archaeological project going on there which is uncovering evidence about the original occupants of the land. It is humbling and wonderful to touch a hearthstone that may have been created before the pyramids were built, and to reflect on the number of years people have been walking the ground you're walking on. There is so much we don't yet know about Australia's ecology and history.
posted by andraste at 10:39 PM on November 2, 2016


ABC report with video and more info.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:37 PM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


How secure is the stratigraphy at this site? I've seen a couple of articles quoting Australia-based paleoanthropologists who are sceptical, due to the artifacts' being essentially 10000 years out of the accepted sequence. Do they truly belong to the older layers they're being associated with here?
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:22 AM on November 3, 2016


I like how they specify "sophisticated human community" to avoid confusion with all the lizard people communities in the area.

I think they needed to emphasize the "human" aspect because, as someone else noted earlier upthread:

So these guys were contemporary with Neanderthals and Denisovans, and on the border with Homo floresiensis. The story gets more complicated every year.
posted by My Dad at 8:07 AM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


If anyone's interested in this latter point, and has access to BBC iPlayer, there's a really good Horizon documentary on this newly complex picture of human origins, The Lost Tribes of Humanity, which aired on BBC Two on 12 October 2016:
Alice Roberts explores the latest discoveries in the study of human origins, revealing the transformation that has been brought about in this field by genetics.

Traditional paleo-anthropology, based on fossils, is being transformed by advanced genome sequencing techniques. We now know that there were at least four other distinct species of human on the planet at the same time as us - some of them identified from astonishingly well-preserved DNA extracted from 50,000-year-old bones, others hinted at by archaic sections of DNA hidden in our modern genome. What's more, we now know that our ancestors met and interacted with these other humans, in ways that still have ramifications today. Alice uses these revelations to update our picture of the human family tree.
If you can ignore the rather silly, question-begging Biblical title, it's got a lot of good material, including interviews with Chris Stringer and the team who excavated the Denisovan cave, as well as those responsible for sequencing the Denisovan DNA.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:33 AM on November 3, 2016 [5 favorites]




neat!
posted by jedcollins at 6:55 AM on November 4, 2016


« Older My building looks a little small   |   It was 1982. We were young. There was only one... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments