FACT SHEETS

Australia’s earliest modern humans

21.09.17 by CABAH

The remarkable new evidence from Madjedbebe in northern Australia contributes to our ever-expanding scientific notebook about Australia’s earliest modern humans.

The research raises fascinating points about how long ago the first humans arrived in Australia, how long these people existed with megafauna, and the overlap between modern humans and Neanderthals.

Let’s take a look at some key points that have emerged from this research.

Excavation at Madjebebe. Photo Dominic O Brien/Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation
2600 generations
Indigenous Australians on the Australian continent
9 generations
Europeans on the Australian continent
Ben Marwick, Univeristy of Washington, showing the dig site to visitors. Dominic O Brien/Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation

Arrival 65,000 years ago

Madjedbebe is the oldest known place of human occupation in Australia.

It’s profound to think that Indigenous Australians have been coming to this rock shelter for over 2,600 generations! Europeans have been in Australia just nine generations.

Arrival of the first humans in Australia has been robustly debated for decades. Until now, it was speculated that Australia wasn’t occupied until 47,000 years ago. Madjebebe sets a new line in the sand for human arrival into Australia at least 65,000 years ago.

20,000

A land with giants!

We now know these early Australians and megafauna co-existed for at least 20,000 years. This puts a giant-sized question mark around the previously held assumption that humans wiped-out Australia’s megafauna as soon as they arrived.

20,000

A land with giants!

We now know these early Australians and megafauna co-existed for at least 20,000 years. This puts a giant-sized question mark around the previously held assumption that humans wiped-out Australia’s megafauna as soon as they arrived.

15,000 year overlap

We have a new piece to the complex puzzle of global dispersal and evolution of early humans.

Dates obtained from samples at Madjebebe also affect our assumptions about when and where modern humans started to mix, and breed, with Neanderthals, Denisovans, and possibly other hominins. There’s even a potential 15,000-year overlap with the tiny Homo florensiensis, known as ‘Flores Man’ or ‘Hobbit’ who once lived in Indonesia.

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