A report by Jonathan Benjamin of Flinders University and colleagues published July 1, 2020, in the open-access journal PLOS ONE suggests that ancient submerged Aboriginal archaeological sites off the coast of Australia await underwater rediscovery.
When people first landed in Australia 65,000 years ago, sea levels were roughly 80 metres lower than today. Sea levels varied but continued to decline as the global atmosphere cooled.
Sea levels plummeted 130 metres during the last ice age, which peaked about 20,000 years ago when the planet sank into the last ice age.
I think the planet warmed up between 18000 and 8000 years ago. Because of the melting of the ice sheets, the sea level rose. Around 11,000 years ago, Tasmania was isolated off from the rest of the world. Around 8,000 years ago, New Guinea split from Australia.
2.12 million square kilometres of land on the continental shelf around Australia were inundated by sea-level rise. In the past, tens of thousands of generations of humans have lived on these landscapes, which are now submerged.
During several field campaigns between 2017 and 2019, Benjamin and colleagues used a variety of techniques to locate and investigate submerged archaeological sites, including aerial and underwater remote sensing technologies, as well as a direct investigation by divers. The results of these campaigns are presented in this study.
On the Murujuga shoreline in northwest Australia, the team examined two locations.
Divers in Cape Bruguieres Channel found 269 artefacts dating to at least 7,000 years ago, and a solitary object in Flying Foam Passage, dated to at least 8,500 years ago, according to the report. On Australia’s continental shelf, these are the first verified underwater archaeological sites to be discovered.
These findings illustrate the value of these exploratory approaches for discovering submerged archaeological sites, as well as the need for more research.
It is hoped that in the future, these approaches might be further developed for the systematic recovery and study of old Aboriginal cultural artefacts.
Future exploration should be based on rigorous and safe scientific techniques, as well as laws to safeguard and maintain Aboriginal cultural assets along Australia’s coastline.
It’s one of the final frontiers in Australian archaeology. Archaeology on continental shelves can fill in a significant gap in Africa’s human history, he says, and “our discoveries are only the beginning of an exciting journey to explore that possibility.”