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Humans May Have Been In Australia About 20,000 Years Longer Than We Thought

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Archaeologists in Australia have uncovered evidence that aboriginal people inhabited the continent at least 65,000 years ago, rewriting commonly accepted estimates about when modern humans may have reached the area from Africa and across south Asia.

Findings on about 11,000 artifacts unearthed at Kakadu National Park, an enormous nature reserve at the uppermost tip of Australia’s Northern Territory, belie the formerly prevailing (if contentious) claim that modern humans have lived in Australia for between 47,000 and 60,000 years.

Some of the Kakadu artifacts potentially date back 80,000 years, the Guardian reports, citing research published in the science journal Nature Thursday.

“People got here much earlier than we thought, which means of course they must also have left Africa much earlier to have traveled on their long journey through Asia and south-east Asia to Australia,” the study’s lead author, Associate Professor Chris Clarkson of the University of Queensland, told the Guardian.

Clarkson added that the findings also undermine the theory that aboriginal colonization of Australia almost immediately wiped out the country’s megafauna. “[T]he time of overlap with the megafauna, for instance, is much longer than originally thought,” Clarkson said, “maybe as much as 20,000 or 25,000 years.”

Australia’s indigenous Mirarr people — on whose traditional lands the excavation took place — reportedly retained total control over the dig and its artifacts. Under a landmark agreement, researchers were required to report their findings to the Mirarr and return the artifacts to them at the end of the project.


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Write to Joseph Hincks at joseph.hincks@time.com