Archaeologists find underwater sites belonging to Aboriginal Australians

The site itself purportedly dates back millennia when the current ocean floor - where the site is located - was actually dry land, before sea level rises and changes in atmosphere, etc.

Aboriginal artefacts reveal first ancient underwater cultural sites in Australia (photo credit: SAM WRIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY)
Aboriginal artefacts reveal first ancient underwater cultural sites in Australia
(photo credit: SAM WRIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY)
Two underwater archaeological sites containing artifacts belonging to Aboriginal Australians were discovered off the coast of Pilabra, according to a statement made by the archaeological team.
These are the first underwater sites belonging to the Aboriginal people that have been discovered off the coast of Australia.
Aboriginal artefacts reveal first ancient underwater cultural sites in Australia. (Sam Wright Photography)Aboriginal artefacts reveal first ancient underwater cultural sites in Australia. (Sam Wright Photography)
The team's findings were published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One, detailing the ancient underwater sites at Cape Bruguieres and Flying Foam Passage, providing new evidence to how the Aboriginal people lived in these locations thousands of years ago.
The site itself purportedly dates back millennia when the current ocean floor - where the site is located - was actually dry land, before sea level rises and changes in atmosphere, etc. following the last Ice Age.
According to the research team, the digs have yielded hundreds of stone tools as well as a freshwater spring - now underwater - which they believe were crafted and used by the Aboriginal people of the time.
Aboriginal artefacts reveal first ancient underwater cultural sites in Australia. (Sam Wright Photography)Aboriginal artefacts reveal first ancient underwater cultural sites in Australia. (Sam Wright Photography)
The team itself consists of dozens of archaeologists from Flinders University, the University of Western Australia, James Cook University, the Airborne Research Australia and the University of York, who have all been working alongside the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation as part of the Deep History of Sea Country Project (DHSC), funded by the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Project Scheme.
“Today we announce the discovery of two underwater archaeological sites that were once on dry land. This is an exciting step for Australian archaeology as we integrate maritime and Indigenous archaeology and draw connections between land and sea,” said Associate Professor and the Maritime Archaeology Program Coordinator at Flinders University’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Jonathan Benjamin.
“Australia is a massive continent but few people realize that more than 30% of its land mass was drowned by sea-level rise after the last ice age. This means that a huge amount of the archaeological evidence documenting the lives of Aboriginal people is now underwater,” he continued. “Now we finally have the first proof that at least some of this archaeological evidence survived the process of sea level rise. The ancient coastal archaeology is not lost for good; we just haven’t found it yet. These new discoveries are a first step toward exploring the last real frontier of Australian archaeology."
Researchers have been systematically surveying the Dampier Archipelago in line with the DHSC project, to uncover age-old cultural sites in order to better explain, manage and protect Australia's ancient underwater history, which they purport could extend across 2 million square kilometers of landscapes that were located above sea level millennia ago.
Aboriginal artefacts reveal first ancient underwater cultural sites in Australia. (Sam Wright Photography)Aboriginal artefacts reveal first ancient underwater cultural sites in Australia. (Sam Wright Photography)
“Managing, investigating and understanding the archaeology of the Australian continental shelf in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional owners and custodians is one of the last frontiers in Australian archaeology” said Benjamin. “Our results represent the first step in a journey of discovery to explore the potential of archaeology on the continental shelves which can fill a major gap in the human history of the continent.”
“Further exploration could unearth similar cultural relics and help us better understand the life of the people who were so connected to these areas of land which are now underwater,” Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation CEO Peter Jeffries added. “With this comes a new requirement for the careful management of Aboriginal sea country as it’s not automatically protected by current Heritage legislation, however plans are progressing to lead this change and protect our sea country land and heritage.”
The archaeological dive team began mapping artifacts located along the shallow coastal shelf at Cape Bruguieres, 269 total, which were found as far as 2.4 meters below sea level. They purport, by radiocarbon dating and analysis of the site that the location is at least 7,000 years old.
At the Flying Foam Passage location, archaeologists unearthed a man-made freshwater spring located 14 meters below sea level. This site is believed to be 8,500 years old.
The researchers note that both sites have the potential to be much older than the dates provided, given radiocarbon dating only provides a minimum age.
Aboriginal artefacts reveal first ancient underwater cultural sites in Australia. (Sam Wright Photography)Aboriginal artefacts reveal first ancient underwater cultural sites in Australia. (Sam Wright Photography)
"At one point there would have been dry land stretching out 160 km from the current shoreline. That land would have been owned and lived on by generations of Aboriginal people. Our discovery demonstrates that underwater archaeological material has survived sea-level rise, and although these sites are located in relatively shallow water, there will likely be more in deeper water offshore.” said Chelsea Wiseman from Flinders University who has been working on the DHSC project as part of PhD research.
A marine geomorphologist at the University of Western Australia Dr. Michael O'Leary explains further that "these territories that are now underwater harbored favorable environments for Indigenous settlements including freshwater, ecological diversity and opportunities to exploit marine resources which would have supported relatively high population densities."