Cultural innovation and megafauna interaction in the early settlement of arid Australia

Giles Hamm, Peter Mitchell, Lee Arnold, Gavin Prideaux, Daniele Questiaux, Nigel Spooner, Vladimir Levchenko, Elizabeth Foley, Trevor H. Worthy, Birgitta Stephenson, Vincent Coulthard, Clifford Coulthard, Sophia Wilton, Duncan Johnston

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    91 Citations (Scopus)


    Elucidating the material culture of early people in arid Australia and the nature of their environmental interactions is essential for understanding the adaptability of populations and the potential causes of megafaunal extinctions 50-40 thousand years ago (ka). Humans colonized the continent by 50 ka1,2, but an apparent lack of cultural innovations compared to people in Europe and Africa3,4 has been deemed a barrier to early settlement in the extensive arid zone2,3. Here we present evidence from Warratyi rock shelter in the southern interior that shows that humans occupied arid Australia by around 49 ka, 10 thousand years (kyr) earlier than previously reported2. The site preserves the only reliably dated, stratified evidence of extinct Australian megafauna5,6, including the giant marsupial Diprotodon optatum, alongside artefacts more than 46 kyr old. We also report on the earliest-known use of ochre in Australia and Southeast Asia (at or before 49-46 ka), gypsum pigment (40-33 ka), bone tools (40- 38 ka), hafted tools (38-35 ka), and backed artefacts (30-24 ka), each up to 10 kyr older than any other known occurrence7,8. Thus, our evidence shows that people not only settled in the arid interior within a few millennia of entering the continent9, but also developed key technologies much earlier than previously recorded for Australia and Southeast Asia8.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)280-283
    Number of pages18
    Issue number7628
    Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2016


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