Category Archives: AUSTRALIA

Newly Discovered Human-Sized Dinosaur Footprint Is The Largest Ever Found

Newly Discovered Human-Sized Dinosaur Footprint Is The Largest Ever Found

Newly Discovered Human-Sized Dinosaur Footprint Is The Largest Ever Found
The prints indicate enormous animals that were probably around 5.3 to 5.5 metres at the hip.

Australian researchers digging in the area known as “Australia’s Jurassic Park” have found the world’s biggest dinosaur footprint yet to be discovered.

According to their findings published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, the University of Queensland and James Cook University paleontologists found 20 more dinosaur footprints while digging around the Kimberly area in Western Australia.

Until now, the biggest known dinosaur footprint was a 106cm track discovered in the Mongolian desert.

At the new site, along the Kimberley shoreline in a remote region of Western Australia, paleontologists discovered a rich collection of dinosaur footprints in the sandstone rock, many of which are only visible at low tide.

The prints, belonging to about 21 different types of dinosaur, are also thought to be the most diverse collection of prints in the world.

Steve Salisbury, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Queensland told ABC News: “We’ve got several tracks up in that area that is about 1.7 meters long.

So most people would be able to fit inside tracks that big, and they indicate animals that are probably around 5.3 to 5.5 meters at the hip, which is enormous.”

The prints, found along the Kimberley shoreline, belong to about 21 different types of dinosaur and are thought to be the most diverse collection of prints in the world.

Salisbury said the diversity of the tracks was globally unparalleled and made the area the “Cretaceous equivalent of the Serengeti”. He also dubbed it “Australia’s own Jurassic Park”.

“It is extremely significant, forming the primary record of non-avian dinosaurs in the western half the continent and providing the only glimpse of Australia’s dinosaur fauna during the first half of the early Cretaceous period,” he said.

The findings were reported in the Memoir of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“There are thousands of tracks,” said Salisbury. “Of these, 150 can confidently be assigned to 21 specific track types, representing four main groups of dinosaurs.”

The largest tracks belonged to sauropods, huge Diplodocus-like herbivores with long necks and tails.

The scientists also discovered tracks from about four different types of ornithopod dinosaurs (two-legged herbivores) and six types of armored dinosaurs, including Stegosaurs, which had not previously been seen in Australia.

At the time the prints were left, 130m years ago, the area was a large river delta and dinosaurs would have traversed wet sandy areas between surrounding forests.

The latest investigation was prompted after the region was selected as the site for a liquid natural gas processing precinct in 2008.

The area’s traditional custodians, the Goolarabooloo people, who were aware of the prints, contacted Salisbury and his team and asked them to investigate.

The scientists from Queensland University and James Cook University, along with Indigenous representatives, spent 400 hours documenting the prints.

“Dinosaur tracks have been known through that area, probably for thousands of years. They form part of the song cycle,” Salisbury said told ABC News.

“We got contacted to come in and have a closer look, and it didn’t take long for us to realize that … there was a spectacular dinosaur track fauna preserved there that was at risk.”

Newly Discovered Human-Sized Dinosaur Footprint Is The Largest Ever Found

Newly Discovered Human-Sized Dinosaur Footprint Is The Largest Ever Found

Scientists claim they have found “Australia’s Jurassic Park” along the rocky shores of Western Australia’s remote area of Kimberly. Palaeontologists have found a diverse collection of dinosaur footprints in the area, among them the largest dinosaur footprint known to science, as Jonathan Amos reports for the BBC.

Newly Discovered Human-Sized Dinosaur Footprint Is The Largest Ever Found

The research team, consisting of palaeontologists from the University of Queensland and the University of James Cook, reported twenty-one types of fossil footprints stamped on the Dampier Peninsula sandstones.

Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“There were five different types of predatory dinosaur tracks, at least six types of tracks from long-necked herbivorous sauropods, four types of tracks from two-legged herbivorous ornithopods, and six types of tracks from armoured dinosaurs,” lead researcher Steven Salisbury says in a statement.

The tracks also provide the only known evidence of stegosaurs in Australia, Salisbury notes.

One footprint spanned five feet and nine inches in length, making it the largest dinosaur track ever discovered, according to CNN’s Joshua Berlinger.

The print was left by a sauropod, a long-necked, four-legged herbivore

Dinosaurs plodded through the region some 130 million years ago, leaving their heavy tracks in the wet sands of a river delta. Speaking to Amos at the BBC, Salisbury said that the fossilized prints provide the “only window” into the presence of dinosaurs in Western Australia.

Relatively few traces of the prehistoric creatures have been found on the continent as a whole since Australia’s low-lying plains leave fossils susceptible to erosion by the elements. 

Between 2011 and 2016, Salisbury and his team spent 400 hours examining and measuring the prints. They used photogrammetry to create models of the fossils, and took silicone casts of many of the prints, so they could be displayed in museums.

The tracks were usually only visible at low tide, and researchers “braved sharks, crocodiles, massive tides and the threat of development” as they worked in the area, according to the University of Queensland statement. 

The prints had long gone unnoticed to palaeontologists, but indigenous lore has long attested to their existence. As Amos writes, the oral history of Australia’s indigenous people tells of a creator named Marala, or the Emu man, who left large, three-toed tracks as he walked across the land.

The Goolarabooloo people, a community of Aboriginal Australians, first alerted Salisbury to the presence of the footprints.

The Goolarabooloo are the “Traditional Custodians” of Walmadany, an area of the Dampier Peninsula where most of the prints are concentrated.

In 2008, the Australian government announced that it intended to build a gas processing plant in Walmadany. Goolarabooloo leaders hoped their land would be preserved if Salisbury could confirm that dinosaur fossils existed in the region.

“We needed the world to see what was at stake,” Goolarabooloo “Law Boss” Phillip Roe said, according to the University of Queensland Statement. 

Plans for the Walmadany gas plant were halted when a gas company decided that it would not be economically feasible to proceed with the project. The area has also been granted National Heritage status, according Ben Collins of ABC Australia.

Curious spectators will be able to explore the remarkable collection of footprints. Salisbury told Collins that one of the best ways to view the tracks is by walking the Lurujarri Heritage Trail—a nine-day hike that follows paths laid out in indigenous oral history. 

Almost all living people outside of Africa trace back to a single migration more than 50,000 years ago

Almost all living people outside of Africa trace back to a single migration more than 50,000 years ago

Australian Aborigines have long been cast as a people apart. Although Australia is halfway around the world from our species’ accepted birthplace in Africa, the continent is nevertheless home to some of the earliest undisputed signs of modern humans outside Africa, and Aborigines have unique languages and cultural adaptations.

Eske Willerslev (left) meets Aboriginal elders during the genetic sampling project he led.PREBEN HJORT, MAYDAY FILM

Some researchers have posited that the ancestors of the Aborigines were the first modern humans to surge out of Africa, spreading swiftly eastward along the coasts of southern Asia thousands of years before the second wave of migrants populated Eurasia.

Not so, according to a trio of genomic studies, the first to analyze many full genomes from Australia and New Guinea. They conclude that, like most other living Eurasians, Aborigines descend from a single group of modern humans who swept out of Africa 50,000 to 60,000 years ago and then spread in different directions.

The papers “are really important,” says population geneticist Joshua Akey of the University of Washington, Seattle, offering powerful testimony that “the vast majority of non-Africans [alive today] trace their ancestry back to a single out-of-Africa event.”

Yet the case isn’t closed. One study argues that an earlier wave of modern humans contributed traces to the genomes of living people from Papua New Guinea. And perhaps both sides are right, says archaeologist Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, a co-author on that paper who has long argued for an early expansion out of Africa. “We’re converging on a model where later dispersals swamped the earlier ones,” he says.

Aubrey Linch, an Aboriginal elder, agreed to participate in a project to study his people’s roots.PREBEN HJORT, MAYDAY FILM

A decade ago, some researchers proposed the controversial idea that an early wave of modern humans left Africa more than 60,000 years ago via a so-called coastal or southern route.

These people would have launched their migration from Ethiopia, crossing the Red Sea at its narrowest point to the Arabian Peninsula, then rapidly pushing east along the South Asian coastline all the way to Australia.

Some genetic studies, many on mitochondrial DNA of living people, supported this picture by indicating a relatively early split between Aborigines and other non-Africans. But analysis of whole genomes— the gold standard for population studies— was scanty for many key parts of the world.

Three large groups of geneticists independently set out to fill the gaps, adding hundreds of fully sequenced genomes from Africa, Australia, and Papua New Guinea to existing databases. Each team used complex computer models and statistical analyses to interpret the population history behind the patterns of similarity and difference in the genomes.

A team led by evolutionary geneticist Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen zeroed in on Australia and New Guinea in what Akey calls a “landmark” paper detailing the colonization of Australia. By comparing Aboriginal genomes to other groups, they conclude that Aborigines diverged from Eurasians between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago after the whole group had already split from Africans. That means Aborigines and all other non-African people descend from the same out-of-Africa sweep, and that Australia was initially settled only once, rather than twice as some earlier evidence had suggested. Patterns in the Aboriginal DNA also point to a genetic bottleneck about 50,000 years ago: the lasting legacy of the small group that first colonized the ancient continent.

The majority of Aboriginal people here in Australia believe that we have been here in this land for many thousands of years. I am ‘over the moon with the findings.


In another paper, a team led by population geneticist David Reich of Harvard University comes to a similar conclusion after examining 300 genomes from 142 populations. “The take-home message is that modern human people today outside of Africa are descended from a single founding population almost completely,” Reich says. “You can exclude and rule out an earlier migration; the southern route.”

But the third paper, by a team led by Mait Metspalu of the Estonian Biocentre in Tartu, makes a different claim. Analyzing 379 new genomes from 125 populations worldwide, the group concludes that at least 2% of the genomes of people from Papua New Guinea come from an early dispersal of modern humans, who left Africa perhaps 120,000 years ago. Their paper proposes that Homo sapiens left Africa in at least two waves.

Reich questions that result, but says that his and Willerslev’s studies can’t rule out a contribution of only 1% or 2% from an earlier H. sapiens migration. Akey says: “As population geneticists, we could spend the next decade arguing about that 2%, but in practical terms, it doesn’t matter.” The most recent migration “explains more than 90% of the ancestry of living people.”

Still, changes in climate and sea level would have favored earlier migrations, according to a fourth Nature paper. Axel Timmermann and Tobias Friedrich of the University of Hawaii, Manoa, in Honolulu, reconstructed conditions in northeastern Africa and the Middle East, based on the astronomical cycles that drove the ice ages. They find that a wetter climate and lower sea levels could have enticed humans to cross from Africa into the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East during four periods, roughly around 100,000, 80,000, 55,000, and 37,000 years ago. “I’m very happy,” Petraglia says. His and others’ discoveries of early stone tools in India and Arabia suggest that moderns did expand out of Africa during the early migration windows. But those lineages mostly died out.

The major migration, with more people reaching all the way to Australia, came later. “Demographically, after 60,000 years ago something happens, with larger waves of moderns across Eurasia,” Petraglia says. “All three papers agree with that.”

The studies show Aborigines’ ties to other Eurasians but also reinforce Australia’s relatively early settlement and long isolation. As such, they reaffirm its unique place in the human story. The continent holds “deep, deep divisions and roots that we don’t see anywhere else except Africa,” Willerslev says. That echoes the views of Aborigines themselves.

“The majority of Aboriginal people here in Australia believe that we have been here in this land for many thousands of years,” Colleen Wall, a co-author on the Willerslev paper and elder of the Aboriginal Dauwa Kau’bvai Nation in Wynnum, Australia, wrote in an email to Science. “I am ‘over the moon with the findings.”

The Largest Dinosaur Footprint Ever Has Been Found in Australia’s ‘Jurassic Park’

The Largest Dinosaur Footprint Ever Has Been Found in Australia’s ‘Jurassic Park’

On a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) stretch of coastline in Western Australia, there lies a prehistoric treasure trove.

Thousands of approximately 130-million-year-old dinosaur footprints are embedded in a stretch of land that can only be studied at low tide when the sea – and the sharks and crocodiles that inhabit the region  – can’t hide them.

What scientists found there is truly special, according to a study recently published in The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“Nowhere else in the world has as many dinosaurs represented by a track that Walmadany does,” Steve Salisbury, a paleontologist at the University of Queensland and lead author of the study, says in a video describing the area.

Included among those many dinosaur tracks is the largest dinosaur footprint ever found. At approximately 1.75 meters long (about 5 feet, 9 inches), the track came from some sort of giant sauropod, a long-necked herbivore.

The Largest Dinosaur Footprint Ever Has Been Found in Australia's 'Jurassic Park'
Salisbury et al, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology

“There’s nothing that comes close” in terms of size, Salisbury tells CNN.

But there’s far more there than one giant footprint.

The University of Queensland/Vimeo

“We see a unique dinosaur fauna that includes things like stegosaurs and some of the biggest dinosaurs to have ever walked the planet, gigantic sauropods,” Salisbury says in the video.

This was the first evidence of stegosaurs ever found in Australia.

There are also tracks from meat-eating theropods that walked on two feet and left three-toed prints with shapes similar to those many remember from the film Jurassic Park.

In this case, the three-toed prints have a special significance: in local lore, the tracks belong to Marala, an Emu man who journeyed through the region, giving laws that dictated how people should behave.

The University of Queensland/Vimeo

In a press release announcing the findings, Salisbury also describes the various other types of dinosaur tracks discovered.  

“There were five different types of predatory dinosaur tracks, at least six types of tracks from long-necked herbivorous sauropods, four types of tracks from two-legged herbivorous ornithopods, and six types of tracks from armored dinosaurs,” he says. 

The University of Queensland/Vimeo

The University of Queensland researchers were brought in more than five years ago by the aboriginal Goolarabooloo community, who are the traditional custodians of the area and have known about the tracks for many years.

The Western Australian Government had selected the region as a processing site for liquid natural gas, and the local groups wanted experts to help protect the region and show what was at stake.

The area was designated a National Heritage site in 2011, and two years later it was announced that the gas production project wouldn’t happen.

The University of Queensland/Vimeo

Since no equipment could be left out when the tide came in, the researchers used drones to map the area with digital photography and laser scans.

According to Salisbury, they have spent more than 400 hours out on the reefs.

“It’s such a magical place – Australia’s own Jurassic Park, in a spectacular wilderness setting,” he says in the video.

Archaeological Sites Identified Off Australia’s Coast

Archaeological Sites Identified Off Australia’s Coast

Researchers say the discovery of more stone artifacts at an underwater location in WA’s north has confirmed its status as Australia’s deepest known ancient Aboriginal site.

In 2019, scientists from Flinders University discovered hundreds of ancient stone tools and grinding stones at the underwater site of Cape Bruguieres, off the Pilbara coast.

A second underwater site was also discovered at the nearby Flying Foam Passage, but only one artifact was found at the 8,500-year-old fresh spring.

But the recent discovery of four more ancient stone artifacts in the passage has given scientists the confidence to confirm its status as an ancient site. 

Potentially ‘thousands’ of undiscovered sites

Chelsea Wiseman says this discovery confirms an archaeological site 14 meters below sea level.

Archaeologist Chelsea Wiseman said it was a significant and rare discovery.

“It confirms that we have an archaeological site located 14 meters below the sea,” she said.

“This is evidence that people were living on a land surface that’s now underwater, so that’s really critical.”

Researchers collected samples from the Pilbara coast in 2019.

Dr. Wiseman is part of a team of scientists who have been studying the region. Their latest findings, confirming the underwater site as an ancient site, have been published in the Quaternary Science Reviews journal.

“It’s a difficult thing to locate an archaeological site underwater and it’s a bit like finding a needle in the haystack,” she said.

“But you can make a haystack a little bit smaller.

“We start with techniques to actually map the seabed, then look for features that might be culturally perspective, features in the landscape, and from there we then test this directly with divers and the divers will then investigate for potential artifacts.”

Scientists found two ancient Aboriginal sites off the Pilbara coast.

Dr. Wiseman said this was just the beginning of submerged landscape archaeology in Australia.

“I think there has the potential to be maybe even thousands of these sites located offshore,” she said.

“It’s a very exciting time in Australian archaeology. I think there’s a lot more to be discovered.”

The research paper found the artifacts were at least 9,000 years old because of how deep they were underwater.

Scientists from Flinders University are looking for ancient Aboriginal artifacts in Murujuga.

A piece of history

Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation declined an interview, but in a pre-recorded video, corporation deputy chair Vincent Adams said the discovery went back to songlines and stories from elders.

MAC deputy chair Vincent Adams at an event for the submission of Murujuga for a World Heritage Nomination.

“The artifacts that we see today are similar, if not the same, as the artifacts that we discovered underwater,” he said.

“It goes to show that our culture and our connection to this country hasn’t been severed and we still got it today.”

Mr Adams said this was one of the biggest discoveries and it was only a matter of time before more sites were found across the country.

“Not only artifacts under water but the stories that have come far and wide … about how significant water was to our people off the coast,” he said.

“We still lived here and we still got the story today to tell you.”

Push for greater protection

Archaeological Sites Identified Off Australia’s Coast
Scientists are advocating for better protection of the Aboriginal archaeological site.

Under Australia’s Underwater Cultural Heritage Act, shipwrecks older than 75 years are granted automatic protection.

Dr. Wiseman said this law did not adequately protect ancient Indigenous sites.

“They have the potential to contribute a vast wealth of knowledge about the past, so it’s absolutely critical that these sites should be protected,” she said.

“Sites, such as the ones that we found in Murujuga, can only be protected with ministerial approval.

“The call would be to extend a more balanced level of protection to the underwater cultural heritage.”

Archaeologists 3D map Red Lily Lagoon, the hidden Northern Territory landscape where first Australians lived more than 60,000 years ago

Archaeologists 3D map Red Lily Lagoon, the hidden Northern Territory landscape where first Australians lived more than 60,000 years ago

Archaeologists 3D map Red Lily Lagoon, the hidden Northern Territory landscape where first Australians lived more than 60,000 years ago

Archaeologists map Red Lily Lagoon, a hidden landscape in the Northern Territory where the first Australians lived more than 60,000 years ago.

Red Lily Lagoon in West Arnhem Land sits more than 40 kilometers inland, near a culturally significant rock art site, Madjedbebe. It is an important archaeological landscape with significant implications for understanding the First Australians.

Scientists at Flinders University have used sub-surface imaging and aerial surveys to see through floodplains in the Red Lily Lagoon area of West Arnhem Land in Northern Australia.

These ground-breaking methods showed how this important landscape in the Northern Territory was altered as sea levels rose about 8,000 years ago.

The researchers used a 3D model to visualize that landscape, with the findings, published in the scientific journal Plos One.

“These results show huge hidden sandstone escarpments — similar to the dramatic sandstone escarpments we see in Arnhem Land and Kakadu today — that for the majority of human occupation were actually exposed and probably habited by people,” lead researcher Jarrad Kowlessar said.

He said the underground mapping and visualization technique could be used by archaeologists to identify underground sites where First Australians may have lived thousands of years ago, and potentially left behind rock art or tools.

The findings also provide a new perspective on the region’s rock art, which is internationally recognized for its significance and distinct style.

The researchers can see how the transformation of Red Lily Lagoon had led to the growth of mangroves that have supported animal and marine life in a region where ancient Indigenous rock art is located by examining how sediments now buried beneath the flood plains changed as sea levels rose.

This transformation has, in turn, fostered an environment that has inspired the subjects and animals in ancient rock art.

In their findings published, the researchers say environmental changes at the lagoon are reflected in the rock art because fish, crocodiles, and birds were featured in the art when the floodplain transformed to support freshwater habitats for new species.

The study’s co-author, Associate Professor Ian Moffat, said the technique was a “game changer” for archaeological research.

“Instead of focusing on the archaeological sites — which is the way we normally think about archaeology — we’ve really stepped out and tried to understand the landscape in a much more holistic way,” he said.

Professor Paul Tacon, an archaeologist at Griffith University who was not involved in the research, said the technique was a “promising” use of the 3D modeling technology, but more research was needed.

Professor Paul Tacon also warned that if rock art had been painted on the sandstone cliffs, it would likely have been eroded by now.

Dr. Kowlessar, however, thinks that even if rock art had been lost to time, the method could still be used to locate locations where people may have left behind tools, furthering researchers’ understanding of Australia’s First Peoples.

World’s oldest heart preserved in 380 million-year-old armored fish

World’s oldest heart preserved in 380 million-year-old armored fish

Researchers have discovered a 380 million-year-old heart—the oldest ever found—alongside a separate fossilized stomach, intestine, and liver in an ancient jawed fish, shedding new light on the evolution of our own bodies.

A team of Australian scientists has discovered the world’s oldest heart, part of the fossilized remains of an armored fish that died some 380 million years ago. The fish also had a fossilized stomach, liver, and intestine.

All the organs were arranged much like similar organs in modern shark anatomy, according to a recent paper published in the journal Science.

As we’ve reported previously, most fossils are bone, shells, teeth, and other forms of “hard” tissue, but occasionally fossils are discovered that preserve soft tissues like skin, muscles, organs—or even the occasional eyeball. This can tell scientists much about aspects of the biology, ecology, and evolution of such ancient organisms that skeletons alone can’t convey.

For instance, earlier this year, researchers created a highly detailed 3D model of a 365 million-year-old ammonite fossil from the Jurassic period by combining advanced imaging techniques, revealing internal muscles that had never been previously observed. Among other findings, the researchers observed paired muscles extending from the ammonite’s body, which they surmise the animal used to retract itself further into its shell to avoid predators. 

And last month, British researchers described their experiments monitoring dead sea bass carcasses as they rotted over the course of 70 days to gain insights into how (and why) the soft tissues of internal organs can be selectively preserved in the fossil record.

World’s oldest heart preserved in 380 million-year-old armored fish
The arthrodire placoderm fossil from the Gogo Formation in Australia where the 380 million-year-old mineralized heart was discovered.

One of the best ways that soft tissue can turn into rock is when it is replaced by a mineral called calcium phosphate (sometimes called apatite). Specifically, muscles, stomachs, and intestines tend to “phosphatize” much more frequently than other organs like kidneys and gonads. The authors concluded that the phosphorus content of specific organ tissue contributes to this unusual selection bias for which soft tissues are preserved in the fossil record.

The fossilized specimens examined in this latest paper were collected from the Gogo Formation in Western Australia, which was once a reef and is rich in exceptionally well-preserved Devonian fossils, such as the class of armored prehistoric fish known as placoderms. That preservation includes soft tissues, including nerves.

In 2005, paleontologists even excavated a new species of placoderm, dubbed Materpiscis (“mother fish”), with an embryo still attached by an umbilical cord—evidence that at least some species of armored fish gave birth to well-developed live offspring.

According to the authors of this latest paper, placoderms were among the earliest jawed vertebrates, the evolution of which involved significant changes to skeletal structure and soft anatomy. Because the preservation of soft tissue is so rare in the fossil record, the samples collected at the Gogo Formation (and now housed in the public collections of the Western Australian Museum and the Museum of Victoria) could hold clues about how this transition occurred—specifically, how the head and neck region changed to accommodate jaws.

Reconstruction of a Devonian arthrodire placoderm.

“What’s really exceptional about the Gogo fishes is that their soft tissues are preserved in three dimensions,” said co-author Per Ahlberg of Uppsala University.

“Most cases of soft-tissue preservation are found in flattened fossils, where the soft anatomy is little more than a stain on the rock. We are also very fortunate in that modern scanning techniques allow us to study these fragile soft tissues without destroying them. A couple of decades ago, the project would have been impossible.”

Paleontologists collected the samples by splitting limestone concretions in the field, then taping the broken pieces together for transport. The researchers were able to scan the intact samples using neutron beams and synchrotron radiation. Then, they constructed 3D images of the soft tissues preserved within based on the different densities of minerals deposited by bacteria and the surrounding matrix of rock.

Artist’s representation of the now-extinct armored fish to which the 380 million-year-old heart belonged.

The result: the first 3D model of a complex, flat s-shaped heart with two distinct chambers. The team also imaged a thick-walled stomach with intact intestines and a liver, separated from the heart; they also noted the absence of lungs. The fossilized liver was quite large and likely helped the fish stay buoyant, per the authors. It’s the first time scientists have been able to see the arrangement of organs inside a primitive jawed fish.

“As a paleontologist who has studied fossils for more than 20 years, I was truly amazed to find a 3D and beautifully preserved heart in a 380 million-year-old ancestor,” said co-author Kate Trinajstic, a vertebrate paleontologist at Curtin University.

“Evolution is often thought of as a series of small steps, but these ancient fossils suggest there was a larger leap between jawless and jawed vertebrates. These fish literally have their hearts in their mouths and under their gills—just like sharks today.”

Priceless archaeological artefacts found in Norfolk Island National Park by local citizen scientist

Priceless archaeological artefacts found in Norfolk Island National Park by local citizen scientist

An archaeological dig on Norfolk Island has uncovered two Polynesian adzes (stone axes) and hundreds of flakes dating back to the pre-European settlement. The adzes were used for woodworking and canoe building and form hard evidence of settlement on Norfolk Island by the Polynesians during the 13th and 15th CE. Part of the Australian Museum’s first, broad-scale, multi-pronged expedition of Norfolk Island, the first pieces of the treasure trove was uncovered by local Norfolk Islander, Snowy Tavener, who identified the site on the walking track in the Norfolk Island National Park more than four years ago.

Priceless archaeological artefacts found in Norfolk Island National Park by local citizen scientist
An archaeological dig on Norfolk Island has uncovered two Polynesian adzes (stone axes) and hundreds of flakes dating back to the pre-European settlement.

“For many years, I’ve been walking this track searching for evidence of a new Polynesian site on our island, so when I came across these flakes I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Snowy said.

“The track is an extremely popular bushwalking path and has been driven and walked over for hundreds of years, but before we told the wider community about our find, I wanted it confirmed by archaeologists,” Snowy explained.

“I showed the site to my friend, Deb Jorgensen, who has a daughter, Nicola Jorgensen, studying Archaeology at the University of Sydney under Dr Amy Mosig Way from the Australian Museum, and the University of Sydney,” Snowy said.

“Nicola was immediately interested and so she and her supervisor came over last year to confirm that it was indeed a potential new Polynesian site,” Snowy added.

Now completing her Master’s degree, Jorgensen said the flakes and adzes are made from basalt and are a tangible link back to the Polynesian heritage of Norfolk Island.

“The number of artefacts not only indicates the level of activity that occurred on the site but also confirms that this is another site made by the original Polynesian ancestors, with the other first settlement site being located at Emily Bay,” Jorgensen said.

Reflecting on the importance of the find, Jorgensen said it was exciting to her that this research commenced with local knowledge.

“I grew up here on beautiful Norfolk Island and like Snowy, feel proud to call it home. Local conservation efforts and preservation of our flora, fauna and historical sites can not only help advance scientific studies but are also more likely to deliver positive outcomes for our community,” Jorgensen added.

Dr Amy Mosig Way and local Norfolk Islander, Snowy Tavener uncover two Polynesian adzes (stone axes).

Australian Museum archaeologist, Dr Mosig Way, said the significance of the discovery is that it demonstrates the extent of the Polynesian settlement across the island.

“No longer can the idea of Polynesians inhabiting the island be thought of as fleeting,” Dr Mosig Way said

“The artefacts can provide us with an understanding of the behaviours, the possessions and the movement of the former Polynesian inhabitants of Norfolk Island. And what is particularly exciting is the preservation of the artefacts, despite the traffic that has occurred on this track during the last few hundred years,” Dr Mosig Way explained.

Norfolk Island National Park Manager Nigel Greenup said that the discovery of the adze was significant.

“This discovery of an adze in Norfolk Island National Park indicates historical links with Polynesian people who first called Norfolk Island home – well before the colonial settlement of the island,” Mr Greenup said.

“We will continue to work with the community and archaeologists to conserve this cultural heritage.”

Australian Museum Chief Scientist, Professor Kris Helgen, acknowledged that keen observations and persistence shown by Snowy have been the key to this extraordinary find.

“Incorporating local knowledge into our analysing and collecting methods is integral to the Australian Museum’s scientific research,” Helgen said.

“I am impressed not only by Snowy’s knowledge but also by the enthusiasm and pride of the whole local community. I know we are all thrilled by these discoveries,” Helgen added.

Dr Amy Mosig Way, part of the Australian Museum’s first broad-scale multi-pronged expedition of Norfolk Island.

Supported by Norfolk Island National Park Manager Nigel Greenup, Jorgensen, Snowy and Dr Mosig Way have carefully excavated, retrieved and recorded the items to ensure they are well-documented and conserved.

Once the dig is finished, the artefacts will be analysed and catalogued by the scientists with the findings and acknowledgement of the local community to be included in a scientific paper. The artefacts will initially be stored on Norfolk Island while a process of community consultation is undertaken to seek views on the long-term preservation and display of the items.

Funded through the Australian Museum Foundation, the Norfolk Island expedition is a collaboration with the Norfolk Island community, Parks Australia, the Australian Institute of Botanical Science and the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Nicola Jorgensen’s project is supervised by Dr Amy Mosig Way, Scientific Officer, Archaeology, Australian Museum and the University of Sydney.