Australia has a deep human history stretching back 65,000 years, but many of its oldest archaeological sites are now underwater. In an encouraging sign that Aboriginal artifacts and landscapes may actually be preserved offshore, archaeologists have discovered a 7,000-year-old site submerged along Australia's continental shelf, the first of its kind. Their discovery is outlined today in the journal PLoS One.
At the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago, when glaciers melted and sea level rose, waters inundated one-third of Australia’s habitable land. As part of a project called Deep History of Sea Country, Jonathan Benjamin, a professor of maritime archaeology at Flinders University in Adelaide, led a team that searched for submerged sites off Murujuga (also known as the Dampier Archipelago), a dry and rocky coastal region in northwestern Australia.
This area has a wealth of inland archaeological sites, including more than one million examples of rock art. About 18,000 years ago, the shoreline of Murujuga would have extended another 100 miles further than the current coast. But Benjamin and his colleagues had little to go on when they began to search the offshore territory.