Evidence was found for what is now thought to be one of the oldest Aboriginal settlements in Australian existence. Oddly, it was found by a guy that dropped into a cave to go to the bathroom.
While Adnyamathanha elder Clifford Coulthard was surveying gorges 550 kilometres north of Adelaide, Australia, he came upon an ancient site, known as Warratyi. The site showed evidence that Aboriginal Australians settled there 49,000 years ago, 10,000 years earlier than previously thought.
Also found, was evidence of the earliest humans that interacted with larger mammals, known as megafauna.
"A man getting out of the car to go to the toilet led to the discovery of one of the most important sites in Australian prehistory,” says Giles Hamm, lead author on the report, who was also there with Coulthard when he stopped to use the bathroom. "Nature called and Cliff walked up this creek bed into this gorge and found this amazing spring surrounded by rock art.”
The first thing that tipped them off was the blackened roof inside the rock shelter, implicating the use of fire and early human activity. Though they thought this meant ancient humans used fire here, they had no idea what was below the surface.
For 9 years, they lead an excavation team that has uncovered more than 4,300 artifacts from the one-meter-deep excavations, along with 200 bone fragments from 16 mammals and one reptile.
"People were set up in arid southern Australia by about 50,000 years ago and they had all these amazing technologies much earlier than what we've thought,” says professor Gavin Prideaux, co-author of the study.
Previously, the earliest evidence of ancient humans dated around 38,000 years ago and was found at Puritjarra in western central Australia.
"This discovery puts people moving south from the northern part of the continent to the southern interior a lot sooner than we thought," Mr Hamm said.
Others, like Michael Westaway, a palaeoanthropologist at Griffith University, believe this is an indication that humans were much more advanced that previously thought, even deep within the Australian continent.
"There is a Eurocentric view that material culture in Australia is quite simplistic and backward, but this helps rewrite that story."