Aboriginal artefacts reveal first ancient underwater archaeological sites in Australia

Archaeologists are finding ancient underwater finds underwater off the coast of Australia

The first-ever underwater aboriginal archaeological sites, dating back thousands of years, have been discovered off the coast of Australia.

Numerous artifacts grew on marine life, but the team was able to identify a number of processed stone tools, including two possible grinding stones. In Cape Bruguieres Channel, divers identified 269 artefacts dating to at least 7,000 years old, and a single artefact was identified in a freshwater spring in Flying Foam Passage, dated to at least 8,500 years old. They provide new evidence of ways of life from when the seabed was dry land and may have supported a dense population.

Flinders University associate professor Jonathan Benjamin said more than 30 per cent of Australia's massive land mass was inundated when sea levels rose after the last ice age, hiding a huge amount of ancient artefacts.

The ancient settlements were once on terra firma but became submerged as sea levels surged in the aftermath of the last ice age.

Laying out what this discovery means, PHD student Chelsea Wiseman said it informs archaeologists about the peopling of Australia and how the various cultures survived on this coastline for thousands of years. "These new discoveries are a first step toward exploring the last real frontier of Australian archaeology", he added. These are the first confirmed underwater archaeological sites found on Australia's continental shelf.

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Aerial view of Cape Bruguieres Channel at high tide (Photo: J. Leach); (below) divers record artefacts in the channel (Photos: S. Wright, J. Benjamin, and M. Fowler).

Funding: The Deep History of Sea Country project team (all authors) were supported by the Australian Research Council's Discovery Projects funding scheme (DP170100812), with supplementary support from the Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming Project (LP140100393), Flinders University and the Hackett Foundation of Adelaide and ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CE170100015). That land would have been owned and lived on by generations of Aboriginal people. This site is estimated to be at least 8,500 years old.

Based on these findings, Professor Ulm said the research team is confident that many other submerged sites will be found in the years to come, which will challenge our current understandings and lead to a more complete account of our human past.

The team also called on the Australian government to enact legislation to protect and manage Aboriginal sites along the coast. The newly discovered underwater Aboriginal sites are part of what is known today as "Sea Country" by members of the five indigenous Australian groups, who maintain an equilibrium with nature on the peninsula.

The Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation collaborated in the efforts, with CEO Peter Jeffries saying further exploration could unearth more cultural treasures.

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