Category Archives: AUSTRALIA

5000-Year-Old Papua New Guinea Artifacts Rewrite Neolithic History

5000-Year-Old Papua New Guinea Artifacts Rewrite Neolithic History

Previously found at ancient Asian and European sites, Now for the first time in New Guinea, the signs of a cultural shift in toolmaking and the lifestyle of farmers found.  

Excavations at New Guinea’s Waim site began in 2016 after local residents discovered these stone artifacts. The finds included mortars, pestles, carved faces, and club heads.

Archaeological Dig at a highland site called Waim produced relics of a cultural transition to village life, which played out on the remote island north of Australia around 5,050 to 4,200 years ago.

Archaeologist Ben Shaw of the University of New South Wales in Sydney and colleagues report the findings March 25 in Science Advances.

Dr. Ben Shaw and some locals examine a few of the Papua New Guinea artifacts unearthed at the Waim dig site in the northern highlands.

Agriculture on New Guinea originated in the island’s highlands an estimated 8,000 to 4,000 years ago. But corresponding cultural changes, such as living in villages and making elaborate ritual and symbolic objects, have often been assumed to have emerged only when Lapita farmers from Southeast Asia reached New Guinea around 3,000 years ago.

In Asia and Europe, those cultural changes mark the beginning of the Neolithic period. The new finds suggest that a Neolithic period also independently developed in New Guinea.

Key finds at Waim consist of a piece of a carved human or animal face that probably had a symbolic meaning and two stone pestles bearing traces of yam, fruit and nut starches.

Other discoveries include a stone cutting or chopping tool, a pigment-stained stone with deep incisions that may have been used to apply coloring to plant fibers and an iron-rich rock fragment that was likely struck with other stones to create sparks for igniting fires.

Farming’s rise on New Guinea apparently inspired long-distance, seagoing trade, the scientists say.

Chemical analysis of an unearthed chunk of obsidian — displaying marks created when someone hammered off sharp flakes — indicates it was imported from an island located at least 800 kilometers away.

Some of the Papua New Guinea artifacts – formally manufactured stone carvings and pestles from Waim.

A Culture Rich Enough to Rival the Greatest in Europe or Asia

These new discoveries are evidence of an ancient island culture, which had developed sophisticated craftsmanship with a range of tools and crafts, that according to the paper had developed “of its own accord in New Guinea.”

Dr. Shaw says that while it has for a long time been argued that social complexity “didn’t come with agriculture in New Guinea,” his new research has identified similar cultural archaeology, evidencing great developments, as is found in Europe and Asia.

The team of researchers is planning to conduct additional excavations around New Guinea to try and find more evidence about the cultural practices that emerged during the transition to agriculture, and maybe even more artifacts pertaining to their complex culture.

19th-Century Shipwreck Studied in Southern Australia

19th-Century Shipwreck Studied in Southern Australia

Maritime archaeology at the University of Flinders helped show a little more of the past of an early Australian-made timber shipwreck in Victoria.

Marine archaeology student Aurora Philpin taking an off-set measurement while mapping the ship’s keel.

Heritage Victoria collaborated with the University’s annual maritime field archeology school and Victoria’s community-based Maritime Archeology Society last month to investigate a wreck near Rye Pier on the Mornington Peninsula.

The wreck is a small Australian-built ship believed to be Barbara which wrecked at Rye in 1853. Barbara was built along the Tamar River in Tasmania by Joseph Hind in 1841 and operated as a lime trader in Port Phillip Bay.

The research showed that the wreck was a very rare example of an early Australian ship that would tell the story of Australia’s early shipbuilding industry

15 graduate and undergraduate students worked with maritime archeology professionals at the annual University’s Maritime Archeology Field School.

Diving archaeology students on-site with Heritage Victoria research vessel Trim and Flinders University’s Tom Thumb stand by

The team comprised members from around Australia and the rest of the world, including the USA, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, and the Netherlands.

Flinders University Associate Professor in Marine Archaeology Wendy Van Duivenvoorde says measured drawings, photographs, and underwater photogrammetry was used to record the wreck while a survey team mapped the surrounding land and seascapes.

“We also excavated small sections of the wreck that allowed us to document the construction methods and wood species used,” she says.

Heritage Victoria’s boat Trim was used to transport personnel and equipment to the wreck site, acted as a dive and safety platform for divers working on the site.

The wood, metal and fibre samples collected from the wreck have, so far, shown that the ship was constructed from different wood species of trees originating from the southeast (Victoria, New South Wales), northern Australia, and Western Australia as well as local Tasmanian blue gum.

“This is possibly the first time such a wide variety of timbers have been found in one Australian built vessel and indicates that early shipbuilders had developed a detailed knowledge of the properties of Australian timbers appropriate for shipbuilding,” Associate Professor van Duivenvoorde says.

“The builders of Barbara also appear to have been willing and to access non-local materials for this ship.

“We are still waiting for the results from the metal and fibre analysis.”

All the data that was collected during this investigation will be included in Heritage Victoria’s records and added to the story of Australia’s history, Heritage Victoria says. A detailed report on the project will be compiled later this year.

Students measuring the ship’s sternpost.

Alcohol Bottles Uncovered at Convict Station in Tasmania

Alcohol Bottles Uncovered at Convict Station in Tasmania

In the structural remains of solitary cells of the convicts in Tasmania, archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of convict era artefacts. 160 prisoners took part in the construction of a highway between Hobart and Launceston between 1838 and 1847 at the Picton Road Station in the Southern Midlands.

Archeologists found ceramics, tableware, bottles, bones and tools during an excavation on the site during the summer. Professor Eleanor Casella from the University of Tasmania said they also unearthed solitary cells used to house convicts.

“The solitary cells themselves are brutal,” she said.

“They’re eight foot by four foot [2.4 metres by 1.2 metres]. They’re so small. It wouldn’t have been a comfortable experience.”

Alcohol Bottles Uncovered at Convict Station in Tasmania
Evidence of many types of alcohol was found at the dig.

The presence of so many alcohol bottles Professor Casella has confirmed it was shocking. “It’s supposed to be heavily regulated in these kinds of punishment stations,” she said.

“We’ve got gin case bottles that have been imported all the way from the Netherlands, plus beer bottles.”

The site on private farmland along the Midlands Highway, near Kempton, was discovered in 2012 when a farmer was doing agricultural work. There have been two archaeological digs at the site, carried out with University of Tasmania students and the Southern Midlands Council.

Aerial shot of archaeology dig site project, former Picton Road Station in the Southern Midlands, Tasmania
Aerial shot of archaeology dig site project, former Picton Road Station in the Southern Midlands, Tasmania

Archaeologist Angela McGowan said she worked on the excavation of the southern wing of the station, which was the first part built.

Archaeologist Angela McGowan says they have found unexpected evidence of earlier buildings at the site.

“The first and most surprising thing we found was some extra wall footings at the back of the trench, so we found a whole small room that wasn’t on the 1841 plan,” she said.

“We have found a great deal of butchered animal bones, cuts of meat basically.”

Aerial shot of archaeology dig site, former Picton Road Station in the Southern Midlands, Tasmania

Ms McGowan said they also found a drain filled with artefacts.

“We certainly found quite a lot of rubbish, broken bottles, broken china, some bits of iron that had been washed down and washed through the hole in the wall,” she said.

Deborah Baldwin, the collections, exhibitions and data officer at the Southern Midlands Council, said processing the artefacts had given her an idea of what a convict’s diet was like.

Many pieces of broken ceramics were found at the old convict site at Kempton.

“It was pretty heavy on the meat, but because they were working on the road, breaking stones, they did need a reasonable diet,” she said.

“There were lots of sheep jaws, so they were using the heads and lots of long bones, ribs and that sort of thing.”

Ms Baldwin said the ceramics were in good condition.

“The ceramics, because they have been fired, seem to fare fairly well underground,” she said.

“Obviously they get dirty, but the glass can change because it interacts with the salts and moisture in the soil.” Another archaeological dig will be held at the Picton Road Station site in 2021.

Charred Leftovers Show What Food Australians Ate 65,000 Years Ago

Charred Leftovers Show What Food Australians Ate 65,000 Years Ago

Contaminants of different plant food aged between 65,000 and 53,000 years ago have been discovered in North Australia by researchers.

The remains, which are preserved as pieces of charcoal, were found in debris from ancient cooking hearths at Madjedbebe—a sandstone rock shelter thought to be Australia’s oldest Aboriginal site.

According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists, with the help of local Aboriginal elders, were able to identify 10 different plant foods by analyzing the preserved charcoal. These included various fruits and nuts, palm stems and “roots and tubers.”

“We were able to recover small pieces of charcoal from the earliest layer occupation at Madjedbebe. These pieces represent the rubbish from people cooking and sharing meals at Madjedbebe, 65,000 to 53,000 years ago,” Anna Florin, an author of the study from the University of Queensland, Australia, told BBC. “They only preserved through chance.

These specific food scraps came into contact with ancient cooking fires and turned into charcoal. They represent the earliest evidence for the use of plant foods outside of Africa and the Middle East.”

“Identification is done by comparison of the ancient remains to modern reference material under very high-powered microscopy,” Florin said. “The modern reference material was collected on Mirarr Country in western Arnhem Land. Elders and co-authors May Nango and Djaykuk Djandjomerr identified the plants that might have been used in this area 65,000 years ago.”

The authors say the findings demonstrate that Australia’s earliest known human population consumed a range of plant foods, including those that required processing.

“By working with Nango and Djandjomerr, the team was also able to explain how the plants were likely used at Madjedbebe,” Florin said in a statement. “Many of these plant foods required processing to make them edible and this evidence was complemented by grinding stone technology also used during the early occupation at the site.”

“The First Australians had a great deal of botanical knowledge and this was one of the things that allowed them to adapt to and thrive in this new environment,” she said. “They were able to guarantee access to carbohydrates, fat and even protein by applying this knowledge, as well as technological innovation and labor, to the gathering and processing of Australian plant foods.”

The researchers say that the latest finds predate existing evidence for such practices in Sahul—an ancient continent which once comprised of Australia, New Guinea, Tasmania and the Indonesian island of Seram—by more than 20,000 years.

Some experts have suggested that the early movements of humans through the islands of Southeast Asia into Sahul were facilitated by access to high-calorie foods.

The Madjedbebe sandstone rock shelter.

“These results suggest that dietary breadth underpinned the success of early modern human populations in this region, with the expenditure of labor on the processing of plants guaranteeing reliable access to nutrients in new environments,” the authors wrote in the study.

“It was once thought that humans moved quickly and easily through Island Southeast Asia, eating a buffet of easy-to-catch marine resources,” Florin told BBC. “However, as this and other archaeological evidence is beginning to show, human populations in this region were deploying skillful foraging strategies to survive and move into new environments. The voyage of early modern humans through Island Southeast Asia and into Australia and New Guinea is one of the great journeys in human history.”

The ancient plant foods are just one of several significant discoveries that have been made at Madjedbebe. For example, the site contains evidence of the earliest grindstone technology outside of Africa and the first recorded use of reflective pigments anywhere in the world. Furthermore, the site is significant because it has pushed back the known timing of human movement into Australia.

“Madjedbebe continues to provide startling insights into the complex and dynamic lifestyle of the earliest Australian Aboriginal people,” Chris Clarkson, another author of the study from the University of Queensland, said in a statement.