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24 June 2014
45,000-year-old artefacts unearthed in Australia

An archeological dig has revealed artefacts of early human occupation in Australia. The discovery of the artefacts of animal bone and charcoal at the Ganga Maya Cave (meaning 'house on the hill') in the Pilbara region of Western Australia are the subject of a scientific paper not yet submitted to archaeological journals. The items analysed through carbon-dating techniques indicate first use of the cave from more than 45,000 years ago.
     The cave, close to an active iron ore mine, is of even more significance because it is believed to have been settled continuously and right through the  Ice Age up until about 1700 years ago. Kate Morse, Director of Archaeology at Fremantle heritage consultancy Big Island Research remains cautious about making claims for the site's significance because so far only a one-metre square area, 139 cms deep, has been excavated.
     Asked if the cave could be the site of the earliest human settlement in Australia, she said: "We have only got the one date and I would prefer to get other dates before I make those kind of claims. It is certainly a very old site. I think it is an area that people have travelled into to start exploring Australia. They have come from SE Asia across the water and arrived in northern Australia and made their way around the coast following river systems inland."
     She added: "It's a very exciting find. The archaeological sequence is great because a lot of sites have been patchily occupied and ours is occupied on and off but repeatedly including during the Ice Age 18-22,000 years ago and it looks like people were visiting the site then. We have found charcoal, stone artefacts and animal bone. We have analysed the bone to see if it is food remains or animals that have died in the cave. We think we have got some material that is burnt so it suggests it has possibly been used for food."
     The discovery has, however, caused some division within the community with one elder, Eddy McPhee, saying he believes the mining company, Atlas, and Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) representing Njamal traditional owners were planning to destroy sacred sites and accompanying Dreaming tracks. But Big Island says it has worked closely with the traditional owners and YMAC  on the project and says it has been well supported by Atlas. It says further excavation is planned in the near future.

Edited from The Sydney Morning Herald (14 June 2014)

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