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Ancient Origins of Australia

Unravelling the Ancient Origins of Australia

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Approximately 40,000 – 50,000 years ago, a group of ancient humans from Southeast Asia made the perilous journey to Australia and settled there, becoming the ancestors of Australia’s aboriginal people.  Their reason for going remains a mystery – some have speculated that they left their homeland due to competition for resources, while others believe they went off in search of adventure.

The number of people who weathered the journey has been a matter of speculation for some time, however, new research indicates that it may have been as many as 3,000 people, much more than previously thought.  As archaeologist Alan Williams says, "It's not just a family that got stuck on a raft and washed away, it’s people with the intention to move, to explore."

The study carried out at the Australian National University in Canberra examined a database of cooking pits, human burials, shell heaps and charcoal deposits from Australian archaeological sites that had all been assigned dates using radiocarbon dating.  Since the number of sites and artifacts increase as the population expands, researchers were able to work out the rates at which the population changed and then back-calculate the aboriginal population at the time of the first European settlement. 

According to the analysis, in order for the population to reach the estimated 770,000 – 1.2 million at the time of settlement, the original population that arrived from Southeast Asia must have been between 1,000 and 3,000.

Perhaps the most interesting question to be raised by this study, is how 3,000 ‘primitive’ humans made such a long and dangerous journey to Australia?   According to historical records, even the watercrafts used at the time of European contact, some 40,000 years after the first arrivals, were small, fragile rafts made of reeds or branches, certainly not the kind that could make a journey from Asia to Australia. 

By April Holloway

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