Re: Australian finds >100 000 BP?

Peter Butler (
23 Sep 1996 02:48:56 GMT

In article <524d4c$>,
Howard Wiseman <> wrote:
>Hi folks,
>I heard a tiny snippet on the news that some archaeologists are claiming
>to have found artefacts/art? in Northern Australia dating back well over
>100 000 BP. If this is true it would cause a major upset to current
>theories about the evolution and spread of modern humans. Is anyone out
>there able to fill me in on the details of this find, and whether it is
>to be taken seriously?

There was a fairly extensive article in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday
21 September about the find and the evidence. The results are to be published
in the journal Antiquity in December.

While I am from the University of Wollongong, I have no connection with this
project and do not speak for the participants. I am posting this general
outline from memory from the SMH article on Saturday which I don't have with
me, so I may make some minor errors but the basic thrust of what I say will be
about right (I hope!). I am not a paleontologist (I am actually a second year
Biology student) so forgive me for stating the obvious if I do so. I just
thought some outline of this information should be here-hopefully someone who
knows more about it than me will post it in more detail somewhere soon.

Having said that, this appears to be one of the most significant sites
discovered of early Australian occupation and possibly anywhere in the world.

The find consist of a large number of circular indentations in rock formations
which appear to only be explained as being man made. An excavation at the
bottom of the site has found tools in sediment layers which have been dated at
between 116 000 and 176 000 years old. These ages have been checked fairly
well over the last few years-the material was first dated about 4 years ago
and the scientists involved (from the University of Wollongong and the
Australian Museum-I can't remember the names, apart from Dr. Lesley Head,
School of Geosciences, Uni of Wollongong) have checked the dates using a
number of dating techniques-some of which I must admit I had never heard of.
This date is approximately double the 40-60 000 years previously thought to be
the time when the Australian Aborigines first entered Australia-and also
pre-dates the time when modern man was thought to have come out of Africa
aprox 100 000 years ago. The area is also full of plants with edible fruit in
unusually high numbers-either deliberately planted or accidentally introduced
by seed disposal, it could mark an early form of agriculture, it certainly
marks an impact on the ecology of the region by humans.

At no time during the timeframe when these people arrived here has there been
land access-the minimum distance by sea being a minimum of 60 kilometers (40
miles) so they must have had boats and therefore language.

This find is also the earliest form of art discovered, predating the previous
record holder of cave painting in France (sorry, I'm sure you all know where
that is but I don't!) at around 30 000 years.

In answer to your question, I think the claim is certainly to be taken
seriously, it is research by well qualified scientific experts who realise the
implications of the discovery and know that it will be received with some
scepticism. From the newspaper account, they have tried everything they can
think of to disprove the claims themselves and now feel it is time to give the
broader scientific community the same chance.

I have crossposted this article to aus.general as I believe that it is a
significant find for all Australians, not just the paleontologists. If you
don't agree with me, delete it from your follow ups.
Peter Butler