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Focus on Geographical Research

23 Jun 2018 11:43 AM | Anonymous

 Human occupation of northern Australia by 65,000 years ago

Professor Jamie Shulmeister, RGSQ past-President, 2017-2018 Council member and staff member at UQ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, was a member of a team of researchers (Archaeologists and Anthropologists, Geographers, Social Scientists) led by Archaeologist Chris Clarkson investigating the human occupation of northern Australia.

The time of arrival of people in Australia is an unresolved question which is relevant to debates about when modern humans first dispersed out of Africa and when their descendants incorporated genetic material from Neanderthals, Denisovans and possibly other hominins. Humans have also been implicated in the extinction of Australia’s megafauna. The research highlighted here was conducted at Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in Arnhem Land. The new excavations revealed artefacts including distinctive stone tool assemblages, grinding stones, ground ochres, reflective additives and ground-edge hatchet heads. The dating of these artefacts, and other analyses of the sediments, confirmed Indigenous Australian occupation at this site around 65,000 years ago. The evidence from this research project set a new minimum age for the arrival of humans in Australia, the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa, and the subsequent interactions of modern humans with Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Jamie’s role was to evaluate the paleoclimatic evidence for the period around 65 ka to support whether human arrival was likely at that time. The research results were published in the prestigious journal Nature in July 2017. It was followed by another paper (lead author Archaeology PhD student, Kasih Norman) that looked at the likely routes of migration from Indonesia into Sahul (greater Australia including New Guinea) at 65 ka. Jamie worked with another geographer, Dan Harris (UQ) to determine seasonal current velocities and directions between Timor and Australia and in the Bird’s Head area of New Guinea. The work demonstrated that it would have been significantly easier to venture by boat from Timor to NW Australia than to enter Sahul via New Guinea. This work was published in Quaternary Science Reviews in January 2018.

 “Human occupation of northern Australia by 65,000 years ago”, Nature volume 547, pages 306–310 (20 July 2017)

“Modeling modern human maritime migration pathways from Asia to Pleistocene Greater Australia”. Quaternary Science Reviews 180: 229-239 (January 2018).

By Jamie Shulmeister

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