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Humans may have arrived in Australia 65,000 years ago

Elspeth Hayes with Mark Djandjomerr and traditional owner May Nango extracting comparative samples Photo: David Vadiveloo / Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation

Humans first arrived by sea to Australia around 65,000 years ago, according to a new archaeological study published in Nature Wednesday. The finding pushes the date of human arrival to the continent — a debated subject — back 5,000 to 20,000 years.

"This age increases the age of occupation of Australia by many thousands of years. This is extremely important as there has been an endless debate about the initial occupation of the continent, with some arguing it was late[r], only within the last 45,000 years, and others [arguing it was] earlier," said Michael Petraglia, an anthropologist from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. Petraglia, who was not part of this study, told Axios that the dating of the artifacts from the Madjedbebe site looks "rock solid."

Why this matters: This study indicates humans left Africa and had the ability and aspiration to traverse the ocean for weeks to an unseen land at a much earlier period than previously thought. It also means humans arrived in Australia when megafauna lived on the continent, which may influence the debate over what led to the extinction of the large animals like the 1000-pound kangaroos and Volkswagen-sized tortoises.