Thousands of Aboriginal artefacts have been unearthed in the Madjedbebe rock shelter on Mirarr country. Located in the Northern Territory, the site is on Jabiluka uranium mining land, surrounded by the Kakadu National Park.
Scientific testing of the site has conclusively shown humans have been in Australia for at least 65,000 years – 5,000 years earlier than thought by some archaeologists.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the images in this article may contain images and voices of deceased persons.
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Once again, science is proving what Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have always known. To put this evidence into context, this means people were here before the extinction of the Australian megafauna, the giant animals that used to roam this land.
Madjedbebe rock shelter has been excavated four times since the 1970s, most recently by an international team led by Associate Professor Chris Clarkson from The University of Queensland School of Social Science in partnership with the Mirarr Traditional Owners. Dr Clarkson said more than 10,000 artefacts were revealed in the lowest layer at the site.
“The site contains the oldest ground-edge stone axe technology in the world, the oldest known seed-grinding tools in Australia and evidence of finely made stone points which may have served as spear tips,” he said.
“Most striking of all, in a region known for its spectacular rock art, are the huge quantities of ground ochre and evidence of ochre processing found at the site, from the older layer continuing through to the present.”
The dig discovered a maxillary (upper jaw) fragment of a Tasmanian Tiger coated in red pigment, giving insight to the central role ochre played in local customs at the time.
Dating carried out by Professor Zenobia Jacobs at the University of Wollongong has revealed that Aboriginal people lived at Madjedbebe at the same time as extinct species of giant animals were roaming around Australia, and the tiny species of primitive human, Homo floresiensis, was living on the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia.
In addition to showing the deep antiquity of Aboriginal occupation, the dig revealed new evidence of activities and lifestyle.
Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation Chief Executive Officer Justin O’Brien said a landmark agreement had made it possible for Dr Clarkson and colleagues to dig the site.
“This study shatters previous understandings of the sophistication of the Aboriginal toolkit and underscores the universal importance of the Jabiluka area,” Mr O’Brien said.
In May a team of archaeologists uncovered evidence from a remote cave on Thalanyji country in Australia’s North West that pushed back physical proof of human occupation in Australia to around 50,000 years ago. And in March, DNA in hair samples collected from Aboriginal people across Australia in the early to mid-1900s revealed that populations have been continuously present in the same regions for up to 50,000 years.
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