Axeheads and grinding stones from a cave in Australia’s far north suggest that humans arrived on the continent about 65,000 years ago, or 18,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to research published yesterday.
A technique called luminescence dating was used to date the ancient tools, which were found in a rock shelter at the bottom of a cliff, on the edge of a sandy savannah plain about 300km east of Darwin.
Finding of a new minimum age for the arrival of humans in Australia pushes back the origins of Aboriginal culture, the world’s oldest continuous civilization, from a previously agreed consensus of about 47,000 years ago.
It also changes scientific understanding of the date humans migrated out of Africa, the study’s lead author Chris Clarkson told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
Scientists believed that humans first left Africa some time between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago, Clarkson said.
“Because Australia sits at the end of this migration route, we can now use this as a benchmark and use it to say that people must have left Africa earlier than this,” he said.
Clarkson’s paper was published in the journal Nature.
The study used both radio-carbon dating, which reaches its limits at about 50,000 years, and luminescence, which uses laser beams, to date 28,500 individual grains of sand from the site, which sits on a Rio Tinto uranium mining lease in the Northern Territory.
“Previous excavations, they didn’t have the access to the dating methods that we do these days to actually confirm that the deposits and the archeology really were that old,” said Andy Herries, associate professor of palaeoanthropology and geoarcheology at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
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