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Aboriginal migration to Australia deliberate and large-scale – study

29 May 20180 comments

Australia was settled by aboriginal peoples not by accident, but as a result of large-scale migration by skilled mariners, new research claims.

Scientists have used ocean current modelling, similar to that deployed in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, to come up with the theory.

The modelling technology was used to identify likely routes between Timor and Australia along a string of more than 100 now submerged islands.

Researcher Professor Sean Ulm said the way the first peoples originally settled Australia had long been a subject of conjecture.

“There’s always been a lot of speculation about how Aboriginal people made it to Australia and a lot of people have argued that people might have made it here by accident,” said Prof Ulm, study co-author and head of James Cook University’s archaeology department.

“What this study has shown … is that it’s so absolutely improbable that you can explain any of those lines of evidence with accidental voyaging,” he said.

“It has to be purposeful, it has to be coordinated and it has to be fairly large-scale to explain the patterns we see.

The study – published in the Quaternary Science Reviews – estimated migration to the bridge of islands off north-west Australia occurred between about 50,000 and 65,000 years ago.

Prof Ulm said that 50,000 years ago, the sea was 75 metres lower and the islands visible from the parts of Timor and Roti.

The hundreds of routes modelled would have taken between four and seven days and spanned up to 150 kilometres.

“If you had the technology to make it there, it was really easy to make it to Australia,” Prof Ulm said.

“We’re talking 60,000 years ago here. So that is an incredible time stamp to how complex the first Australians were from the moment they first saw Australia,” he said.

The study – a collaboration between experts from the CSIRO and various universities – also used genetic information to show hundreds of people, not just a few, likely made the voyage.

“This is very significant because it was very early in modern human dispersals across the globe,” Prof Ulm said.

“We’re talking multiple boats, not just one boat blowing off course … reflecting the population in the mainland South-East Asian area.”




Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist