Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sydney, Australia -- evidence from 30,000 years ago

A cache of charcoal, stone tools and artefacts unearthed to make way for a high-rise apartment block has been found to be 30,000 years old, more than doubling the accepted age of Aboriginal settlement in Sydney, Australia. The discovery was the result of a dig originally set up to search for signs of convict era occupation. It is the oldest evidence yet found of humans occupying what is now metropolitan Sydney.

Although other sites in Australia have been dated to 40,000 years ago, the archaeologist who led this dig, Jo McDonald, said the previous oldest evidence of human habitation around Sydney had been found in the Blue Mountains (14,700 years), at Kurnell (12,500), and near the old Tempe House on the Cooks River (10,700).

"We have always thought that humans arrived much earlier in Sydney, having made their way down the coast from northern Australia and moving inland up major rivers. But most of that earlier occupation evidence was drowned on the coastal plain when the sea level rose to its current height around 7000 years ago."

The archaeologists dug in three spots - "We found lots and lots of stone artifacts, around 20,000 of them," said Dr. McDonald. "There were lots of spear points, axes, and quite a few anvils and grinding stones."

But the most extraordinary discovery was charcoal, possibly from ancient campfires, found about a metre beneath the surface, and very close to some artifacts. Radiocarbon dating showed that the tiny fragments were 30,735 years old, give or take 400 years. Four other
charcoal samples, recovered from shallower depths, gave increasingly younger ages, with the uppermost dated at 3270 years, plus or minus 35 years. The age pattern suggested Aborigines had been routinely camping on the site for at least 300 centuries. "It's proof of the perseverance of Aboriginal culture."

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald (15 September 2007)


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